Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English and Theatre

First Advisor

Heather Fox

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre

Second Advisor

Dominic Ashby

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre

Third Advisor

Erin Presley

Department Affiliation

English and Theatre


The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) outlines the purpose of young adult (YA) literature as addressing the unique needs of adolescents, which are “distinguished by unique needs that are – at minimum — physical, intellectual, emotional, and societal in nature” (Cart “Value” para. 8). This unique period in life is liminal, a time between childhood and adulthood. Adolescents search for meaning in the world around them, with literature as one avenue for self-discovery and affirmation. Mental health is one area teenagers seek answers, and YA literature has attempted to provide spaces to navigate those questions in popular contemporary works like Neal Shuterman’s Challenger Deep (2015) and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down (2017); however, these mental health narratives largely apply to genres like romance and drama. These narratives also take place in speculative fiction, although veiled in fantasy elements like supernatural powers and fictional worlds. Leigh Bardugo’s King of Scars (2019) is one narrative where this underlying mental health narrative underpins the overarching plot of a character, Nikolai Lantsov, attempting to overcome his transformation into a monster. Applying a combination of psychoanalytic theory and place theory first uncovers the metaphor of monstrosity and what it codifies, and then provides the framework for criticizing how the construction of place limits a character’s mobility. This thesis argues that Nikolai’s half-human/half-monster identity roots him in a liminal space, which is reinforced and propagated by the people around him. Nikolai presents an complex case for study because his internal anxiety is made physical by the introduction of literal monstrosity, which is a unique feature of young adult speculative fiction.