Academic journal article English Journal

Opportunities for Advocacy: Interrogating Multivoiced YAL’s Treatment of Denied Identities

Academic journal article English Journal

Opportunities for Advocacy: Interrogating Multivoiced YAL’s Treatment of Denied Identities

Article excerpt

Leteo is this place of second chances.

-Adam Silvera, More Happy Than Not

In a slightly futuristic version of

our society, Adam Silvera's More Happy Than Not features Aaron, a 16-year-old who considers undergoing the Leteo medical procedure to erase a piece of his identity-his homosexuality. Examining this desire allows readers to consider whether Aaron's decision is wholly elective. His choice is seemingly influenced by societal norms and expectations about sexuality. Several characters within the novel seek to reprogram their identities, and each reveals the intricacies inherent in conceptualizations of choice. A woman in her early 20s wants to stop the schizophrenic voices in her head (83). A soldier suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and seeks to forget his memories of war (155). A boy is overcome with grief when his identical twin is murdered by a gunman who confused the two brothers (3-4). These examples helped us imagine how students might consider whether and how identity denial comes from within or without and how these characters' decisions reveal that choices are sometimes made for us-and how power and equity influence our identities.

Young adult literature (YAL) provides readers with a multivoiced palette that embraces cultures, genders, ages, sexualities, and experiences. Within this array are stories that feature characters who deny elements of their identities or experiences that they find challenging or difficult. Multivoiced literature's treatment of these attempts takes on resonance given the historical and social realities of marginalized cultures and communities often featured in such titles. Providing students with opportunities to examine this literature allows for critical conversations about power and equity and analyses of how identity is both constructed and perceived. Discussion about how one might choose to deny specific identities can allow students to scrutinize which identities are privileged or denied, affirmed or suppressed.

This article draws on the assumptions that identity is not only negotiable and socially constructed but also personally constructed (Gee) and that literature can allow readers to disrupt and interrogate the complex ways in which identity may be socially, politically, and culturally situated (Curwood; Glenn; Glenn et al.). Asking students to examine critically why characters seek to deny a part of their voices can complicate their understandings of identity. Examining characters who decide to intentionally silence identities can reveal that there may not be a distinction between choosing to be erased versus already being erased. The texts included in this article force us to interrogate the level of choice these characters actually have when they seemingly "choose" to erase their identities.

The literal identity erasure in More Happy Than Not prompted us to examine other instances of identity denial, literal and figurative. As we analyzed how characters attempt to erase their identities, we considered how students might engage in critical conversations about the ways that people in our multivoiced society are silenced both overtly and subtly. Engaging in critical examinations of identity denial allows readers opportunities to interrogate power inequities in society. In the following sections, we provide three classroom units of study that we believe can help students analyze identity erasure and advocate for acceptance of difference across culture and community. We recognize that students might already be engaging in these discussions; these units are designed to help students extend, complicate, and affirm their thinking. Each unit centers on a multivoiced focal text containing elements of identity erasure and includes activities to build knowledge, ideas to prompt rich classroom discussions, and an advocacy project that invites students to listen closely for voices that are silenced and assume agency.

Immigration Reform: Building Political Awareness and Sharing Perspectives

The first unit features The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. …

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