Book review

Adolescents and online fan fiction, by Rebecca W. Black

Laurie B. Cubbison

Radford University, Radford, Virginia, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Anime; Card Captor Sakura; Community; Education; English as a second language; FanFiction.net; Language acquisition; Literacy; Nonnative English speaker

Cubbison, Laurie B. 2011. Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction, by Rebecca W. Black [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 8. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0393.

Rebecca W. Black. Adolescents and online fan fiction. New York: Peter Lang, 2008, paperback, $29.95 (172p), ISBN 978-0820497389.

[1] Rebecca Black's Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction is published as a part of the New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies series, the volumes of which focus on literacy and popular culture and their relationship to education. The book's title implies a broader study than what is actually provided: a case study of three adolescents who are nonnative English speakers but who are posting fan fiction in English to the anime area of FanFiction.net (http://http://www.fanfiction.net/). Black uses this case study as a point from which to address second-language acquisition, literacy, and popular culture, arguing that sites like FanFiction.net provide a more empowering arena for students to develop their second-language skills than the classroom.

[2] A slim volume, Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction opens with a foreword from James Gee and an author's preface that forecasts the content of the book. Chapter 1 provides a literature review for scholarship into anime and manga as well as fan fiction. Chapters 2 and 3 establish the methodology, with the former discussing issues related to online ethnographies involving minors and the latter describing FanFiction.net as the research site. The next three chapters analyze the writing produced by the three main subjects of the study, with chapter 5 serving as a case study of one writer and chapter 6 discussing the functions of peer review and editing in improving the girls' English writing. In Black's conclusion in chapter 7, she compares the literacy skills developed in online fan spaces to those developed in the classroom. The book's references and index are useful to other scholars in the area. The book contains no artwork, but Black does illustrate her analysis with excerpts from the girls' author's notes and stories.

[3] Black describes the technological and some of the social aspects of the community in her methodology section, contained in chapter 2. She states that she assumed a participant/observer role on FanFiction.net, concentrating on the anime section, with particular focus on the Card Captor Sakura category; this series was published in manga form and broadcast in anime form globally. Although the series is popular with a range of readers and viewers, the target audience consists of preadolescent girls. As a participant/observer, Black posted her own fan fiction to the site, "providing feedback for other writers' texts and interacting with a diverse group of fans" (22). Her data collection consisted of gathering fan fiction and reviews as well as fan art and contributions to communities devoted to "grammar, composition and the etiquette of peer review" (22). She also interviewed her participants via e-mail and instant messenger software. However, although she describes the functioning of the site well in chapter 3, what's missing is a sense of the overall social structure of the Card Captor Sakura community on FanFiction.net, such as the age range of writers and readers, the ratio of English-language learners to native English speakers, and the extent to which subcommunities form among different age groups or levels of English proficiency.

[4] In designing the study, Black's goal was an "inquiry into the ways in which many fannish activities are aligned with or have the potential to inform school-based literacy practices" (21). In choosing participants, she selected three English-language learners who compose in English and rely on the feedback of reviewers in order to improve their English literacy. As a former instructor of English as a second language, Black notes her surprise that students "who claimed to hate English class" (21) wrote and posted English-language fan fiction. She points out that FanFiction.net allows for posting in many different languages, including the participants' native languages, and so the participants made a specific choice to write in English.

[5] Researchers studying online spaces confront many ethical issues involved in their research, and Black is no exception. Even though the materials she analyzes are publicly available, the ethics of Black's research are complicated by the age of her participants, presenting issues common to fan studies research. She explains that even though FanFiction.net is inherently a public site accessible to any Internet user, she changed the usernames and titles of the writers and stories she references so that they would not easily surface in a Google search. In addition, she states, "When possible I shared all publishable pieces with participants for feedback and tried to ensure that I was adequately representing their ideas about participation in fan spaces" (22).

[6] Black explains her theoretical approach to the research project as new literacy studies, using critical discourse analysis as her methodology. FanFiction.net and its Card Captor Sakura category are described as affinity spaces that allow for a number of literacies to be accessible to young writers and that provide them with the opportunity to express their own kinds of expertise and to contribute to the operation of FanFiction.net as a whole, contrasting these affinity spaces with the more rigid structure of the classroom that limits the ability of children to contribute to the functioning of the space. She sees FanFiction.net as fostering procedural knowledge among its young participants, in comparison to the propositional knowledge that is the focus of the school system. Thus the problem of disengagement with school among her participants is attributed to the difference in the level of engagement between school and online communities.

[7] While Black includes three participants, chapter 5 focuses primarily on Nanako, a girl who emigrated from Shanghai to Canada when she was 11. The other two participants, Grace and Cherry-chan, are presented as friends Nanako made while posting to FanFiction.net and who influenced her participation in the site. Grace in particular is described as a role model for Nanako as a nonnative English speaker composing in English. Grace, a native Filipino, is older than the other two girls and began writing in English in order to reach a larger audience than was available in her native language. Black points out that Grace's English education took place through her school in the Philippines, and that her English proficiency is written rather than oral. The other two subjects of the study are Chinese Canadian, and thus they are learning English in an immersive context.

[8] In describing the adolescents' writing, Black focuses less on the stories themselves and more on the ways in which the writers express themselves through story headers and author's notes. She points out Grace's function as a role model to the two younger subjects in terms of the ways she uses the author's notes to respond to reviews. Nanako is seen not only to develop as a writer of English but also to develop a greater understanding of the discourse conventions of fan writing. In contrast, Black notes that Cherry-chan's fan writing was more oriented toward socialization than developing as a writer or interacting with the canon text, as could be seen through her tendency toward hybrid forms of written and oral discourse in her introductory material.

[9] Black discusses the three girls specifically as English-language learners, noting that attention to global popular culture in relation to "the online literacy and social practices of ELL youth" (75) has been limited in research on English as a second language. She reviews the research that has been done and identifies anime fandom as a discourse that is open to the non-Western cultural perspectives provided by English-language learners as "learners and users of multiple social languages and discourses" (79). Black argues that school discourses position English-language learners according to a deficit model, among other subject positions, but that spaces such as FanFiction.net open up possibilities for alternate subject positions that are more empowering. In chapter 5, Black considers the ways the girls' identity formation is influenced by their online literacy in English. She traces Nanako's references to her own ethnic identity as Chinese on some occasions and Asian on others, or as a "bad" or "lazy writer" (81) versus referring to English as her second language. Black observes that Nanako's construction of her popular culture discourses included not just anime, but also British music and American movies, but in a way that fosters a sense of her identity as Asian. Black points out that over time, as Nanako identified the lack of understanding among her readers of Asian culture, the themes of her fiction shifted away from school themes to Japanese and Chinese history. One issue that Black does not address is that Card Captor Sakura aired in an edited version on television in Canada and the United States as Cardcaptors, with many characters' names changed to Western names. It's not clear which version the participants had viewed, an issue that becomes more important given that Nanako begins using her fan fiction to explain aspects of Asian culture to readers who may have seen the Westernized version of the series.

[10] Black pays close attention to the ways that author's notes and reviews function on FanFiction.net as a way for users to negotiate the identities they wish to project. However, the author's notes not only allow the writers to negotiate their membership within the fan community as expert fans but novice writers, but also permit the writers to build a social group through the acknowledgement of regular readers and reviewers. Although none of the three subjects is Japanese, Black notes the incorporation of romanized Japanese into their introductory material, with the Japanese words serving to contribute to the fannish discourse of Card Captor Sakura fans. In discussing the author's notes, she also examines the types of reviews to which they respond. This examination of reviews is useful to other researchers into fan fiction, but I would have liked to have seen the reviewers included as participants in the study in order to gain a greater sense of the social discourse in which Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-chan participate.

[11] Given the more general implications of the book's title, I expected more attention to be paid to posts by native English speakers, even if only as reviewers of the writing by the three English-language learners. Although Black's conclusions contain useful insights for second-language acquisition in relation to online spaces, I found myself craving a larger study with more participants. This study examines the ways that English-language learners use their developing literacy skills to make a place for themselves within a fan community, but it could have more fully described the discursive context of the community in which they must establish themselves as writers.

[12] In spite of the study's limitations, it is valuable for its attention to the role of recreational writing in literacy development, particularly for nonnative language users. Black argues that the structured subject positions of the classroom restrict the second language development of students like Nanako and Cherry-chan, but that a site like FanFiction.net opens up discourses in ways that provide these adolescents with greater possibilities for developing literacy skills.

[13] For fan studies researchers, one of the great strengths of the book is its literature review in chapter 1. Although the literature review is limited to scholarship available in English, it draws on research in a variety of areas, making her bibliography particularly useful to scholars working with anime and manga, fan studies, and literacy. Because this project looks at the writing of anime/manga fan fiction by adolescent English-language learners, Black opens with an overview of anime/manga research and research into anime/manga fan communities. The next section of her literature review recaps general research into fandom and fan fiction before moving on to discuss literacy scholarship in relation to the role of fan writing in the development of children's literacy skills. Noting that previous research in this area focuses on children's fan writing in the classroom or with readership limited to family and friends, Black identifies a lack of research into online fan fiction written and posted by adolescents to publicly available Web sites, a lack this study aims to fill. In her concluding chapter, Black expresses the intention to continue work in this area, and I expect her continued research to provide a significant contribution.



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