Continuing the conversation begun by Michelle Falter a few weeks ago, we welcome Brady L. Nash to the blog today to consider how characters' own literacies should be considered when we study YA texts.
Dr. Nash is an Assistant Professor of English Language Arts at Miami University (Ohio) and a former secondary English teacher. In his teaching and research, he focuses on the preparation of future teachers through critical approaches to ELA curriculum and instruction.
Within the worlds, lives, and activities of characters depicted in YA, there is a wealth of literacy practices on display. Characters read novels in their English classes, blog in their freetime, write in diaries and writer’s notebooks, compose songs, lyrics, videos, watch TV, read poetry. They do all of the literate things that people in the world do. This raises the question for teachers as to how YA texts represent literacy for students, and how YA texts teach students something about the way literacy operates in the world.
Below, I consider several texts in which the literacy practices of the characters play an important role in their lives and in the stories told within the texts. Considering the role of literacy within YA texts could be something for teachers to consider as they choose which books to recommend to students or as they help students pick books that may connect to their own literacy practices. This topic could also be one that teachers invite students to explore, analyze, or consider as part of larger class discussions, projects, or activities.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is a novel told through the protaganist’s (Gabi) diary entries. In this sense, every word on the page functions as a showcase and extension of her literacy practices. Gabi takes creative writing courses, reads and writes poetry, mediates her life experiences through her personal writing, and dreams of attending The University of California Berkeley as an English major. Gabi also navigates her experience as a Mexican American within a culture of literature that has not traditionally celebrated writing from people who look like her and challenges related to others’ perceptions about her weight. Each of these experiences are told to us through writing (writing that exists both in the world of the novel and the world we live in). Writing is not only the medium for the novel, but also much of its content, as we consider how Gabi uses her writing both in and outside of school to make sense of herself and of the world.
On the Come Up, the highly anticipated follow-up to Angie Thomas’s heralded young adult novel, The Hate U Give, follows Bri, a teenage rapper living in the aftermath of her father’s murder and her mother’s recovery from addiction. Like Starr in The Hate U Give, Bri attends an elite, predominantly white high school; after being targeted and assaulted by security guards at school, Bri writes a song about the incident that goes viral, bringing her more attention as a lyricist, rapper, and activist than she had bargained for, with students at the school, neighborhood gangs, and the media all taking notice and reacting. Although much could be said about the ins and outs of the story, the role occupied by Bri’s writing and music production highlights the powerful impact of words and art to spark action - and re-action.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell follow’s Cath’s life as a first year student at The University of Nebraska, with a particular focus on her experiences as a writer of fan fiction stories, many of them erotic, constructed in the world of the Simon Snow book series, loosely based on Harry Potter. The plot is filled with family and social dillemas, and twists and turns related to both. Central conflicts related to Cath’s writing life include the perceived validity of fan fiction in comparison to traditional or normative writing (presuming we don’t count the likes of classic remixes such as Paradise Lost or Hamlet as fan fiction) and the social experiences of Cath as she navigates a literacy practice that, though it brings joy to millions of readers and is deeply important to her, goes largely unrecognized in her life.
Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel focuses on the life of Rani Patel, an up and coming battle rapper who faces both family and political struggles as her Moloka'i community in Hawaii battles for water rights in the face of corporate developments. Rani’s Gujrati heritage and family culture leave her feeling a bit stuck in-between worlds, not quite at home with the values and experiences of either her family or her peers. To complicate matters further, she is grappling with surfacing memories of abuse from childhood. In the swirling midst of these problems, Rani’s engagement with poetry and rap music - as a listener/reader/writer, and eventually, her own performances, serve as powerful forces for her as she deals with this array of personal and political challenges, helping her to develop a sense of self in a world that has been anything but inviting of her.