Developing Students’ Critical Literacy: Exploring Identify Construction in Young Adult Fiction by Thomas W. Bean and Karen Moni

Although this article was written almost twenty years ago, authors Thomas W. Bean and Karen Moni discuss many dilemmas that teenagers go through at home and socially that conflicts with their education that relates to teenagers today. Specifically, teenagers who live in urban areas and surrounded by poverty. The coined term, “contemporary young adult literature” is described as a genre for readers between the ages of 12 and 20. It offers an escape for young adults and a window of opportunity to relate to fictional characters going through similar issues. This article talks about the reality that if a teenager who has to work for their family in order to survive and then goes to school surrounded by books and lessons that does not help with their issues, they are not going to be focused and they will be unmotivated.

“Adolescent readers view characters in young adult novels as living and wrestling with real problems close to their own life experiences as teens” (Bean & Rigoni, 2001, pg 638). It is important to understand that just like adults need an escape from their stress of work and life itself, there are young adults and teenagers who are going through just as much. Using novels that relate to them and that are written in first-person is a great way for these students to learn how to tackle life problems. Another term that was brought to my attention in this article was “critical literacy”. Bean and Moni argue that using critical learning in school empowers students. It allows them to ask the question of, “what choices have been made in the creation of the text” (Janks & Ivanic, 1992). Most of the time, we use novels that cannot relate to them and therefore, they lose interest. However, if you have critical literacy used in the classroom while reading young adult fiction novels, that changes students’ educational process.

In the article, Bean and Moni discuss how the world around us is swallowed by the flow of media, images, advertising, commercials and it influences the making of one’s identity. The last term that was mentioned in this article that I found to be very important was “Enlightenment Views”; which is defined as, “Enlightenment views of identity development were based on somewhat fixed social structures and actions according to class differences” (Mansfield, 2000, pg 640). However, this was challenged by Foucault in 1980 saying, “the Enlightenment View of the rugged individual and argued that power was a driving force in shaping identity” (pg 640). There are two sides developed about whether or not the Enlightenment View heavily influences young adults. Power is something that these teenagers living in urban areas do not see in media nor do they experience it. It is difficult to think they have some sort of power in this society when everything around them shows them in a negative way. Once the students became aware of their society’s cultural influences, they realized more that their identity is blurred by unstable employment, communities, and institutions that do not care about them.

The representation of families and life in the 1950s and the 1960s of a loving, two-parent, white family household with a steady income that is shown on television is a revelation of how the rest of the world is unattached. A teenager who is a person of color living in an urban area, that is taking care of themselves and balancing school, does not find identity in the midst of that. The way critical literacy ties into everything allows the reader to go beyond the usual response questions and learn from the character’s mistakes and apply it to their own life. Critical literacy offers a foundation and framework for these students. I believe that if we continue to use young adult fiction in school, students will be able to break the cycle of not finding their own identity and being lost in the sea of society.