Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Affirmation, Analysis, and Agency: Book Clubs as Spaces for Critical Conversations with Young Adolescent Women of Color

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Affirmation, Analysis, and Agency: Book Clubs as Spaces for Critical Conversations with Young Adolescent Women of Color

Article excerpt

Books are powerful catalysts in the psyches of adolescent readers who may forge character alliances as they analyze relationships and behaviors (Rosenblatt, 1995). Through characters' experiences, students embrace or critique a myriad of scenarios during reading. If their connections with texts are strong, students may even place themselves within the text, making powerful bonds with characters and their situations (Brooks, Browne, & Hampton, 2008; Sutherland, 2005). These interactions create robust, complex reading engagements, within which adolescents learn about diverse experiences and uncover critical issues about themselves and their communities. These engagements, however, are contextualized as students construct meaning based on their cultural knowledge, background, and experiences (Brooks, 2006). Textual engagements can also be complicated or strengthened through conversations with others, particularly within book clubs (Enciso, 2007; Raphael, Florio-Ruane, & George, 2001). Through discussions, book club members express initial textual interpretations, which become springboards to examine their own, and others' experiences and communities. These analytic conversations can shape and reshape adolescent identities as they learn to trust and affirm their own voices, take risks to act in new and positive ways, and analyze the texts and their own and others' perspectives, (Twomey, 2007; Vyas, 2004; Wissman, 2011).

Recently, researchers have called for more nuanced ethnographic studies to explore how diverse students respond to diverse texts so as to better understand the relationships and intersections between culture, identity, and interpretation (Brooks, 2006; Hill, 2009; Sutherland, 2005). This study will inform instruction and extend research that has been done on book clubs as critical and transformative spaces for urban African American, Latino/a, and Asian youth (Polleck, 2010; Boston & Baxley, 2007; Brooks, 2006; Vyas, 2004). In this paper, the authors analyzed conversations of five 12th grade adolescent women of color as they participated in a yearlong book club. The goal was to extend understandings of the experiences of diverse, urban adolescent females, as a way to complicate the dynamics of book club and its effects on identity while simultaneously revealing the negotiations and conversations that occur, particularly when interpreting literature. In doing so, the following questions were explored: How did high school seniors analyze the identities and experiences of the characters and connect those to their own lives, specifically as these connections relate to issues involving gender and race? In what ways did book club influence the participants once they graduated high school?

Theoretical Framework

Reader Response Theory and Critical Literacy

The connection between identity and literacy is unique in that often students' identities can be influenced through the act of reading (Rosenblatt, 1995). Conversely, students' literacy engagements are influenced by their identities, in that who they are affects how they interact with different texts within different contexts (Ferdman, 1990). Literacy and identity are also both socially constructed (Moje & Luke, 2009). Typically, identity construction and literacy practices-both in and out of the classroom-are not conducted in isolation and are renegotiated based on text, context, and interactions with others. Overall, literacy and identity are fluid and interactive processes that are constantly changing, contradictory and permeable.

Reader response theory takes into account individual identities and social practices when considering literacy events. Coined by Rosenblatt, reader response theory shifts traditional textual interactions of one solitary meaning to a transaction between the author's text and the reader's interpretations of that text (Twomey, 2007). Rosenblatt theorizes that meaning occurs neither individually within the text nor the reader, but when the text and the reader transact (Fecho & Meacham, 2007). …

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