When Books Take Place Where You Live

I originally drafted this post a few months ago, so the references aren’t as immediate as they were at the time of drafting, but are still relevant. 

One of the most popular new YA reads this spring/summer was Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. I haven’t read it, but I am mildly curious about it, about 90% of the reason being the Nashville aspect of it.

The Hundred Oaks series by Miranda Kenneally takes place in Franklin, TN, not too far from where I live. When I discovered this, I read up on Miranda Kenneally. Apparently she’s from Manchester, TN, which is also not too far away. So I would think she knows the area. I haven’t read this series either, but I wasn’t impressed when I opened up to the first page of Things I Can’t Forget while in Barnes and Noble one Day and the MC mentions (in the first paragraph, mind you) going to “the next town over” Green Hills to buy a pregnancy test. Well, Green Hills is an area of Nashville (an extremely nice area, I might add), not actually a town; it has terrible traffic because everyone wants to be there (plus Vanderbilt University and Lipscomb University are both in the vicinity); and basically, it’s the last place I would go to to buy a pregnancy test as a teen.

I also saw Paper Riot describe Franklin, TN in The Hundred Oaks Series as a “sports-oriented place,” akin to Dillon, Texas in Friday Night Lights. I’ve watched some Friday Night Lights, and that town is nothing like Franklin, TN. I’m sure there is some love for their local football teams (I’m pretty sure Franklin High School’s football has been to State at least once, maybe more than once, since I moved to Tennessee), but if the impression it gives to the reader is that it’s like Dillon, I would have to beg to differ.

All that to say, I think we love seeking out things about where we live. But what if they get it all wrong?

nashville-area-booksHere’s my more educated rant. While reading Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson there was a character named Cody who stuck out to me. You see, he was a cop in Nashville. That was awesome to me! What was not awesome though? The fact that he said “y’all” when speaking to a singular person. Who does that? Not me, and not my other Nashville area friends. At least, not frequently and consistently (it’s possible it might happen if one is not thinking it through). But it really took me out of the story the first time Cody addresses David, and David alone, as “y’all.” I thought maybe he was talking to someone else too, but I couldn’t figure out who. But then he kept doing it! That’s not how it works, Brandon Sanderson! Of course, he also has some weird Scottish dialect thrown in that is unique to him so who knows.

Still, I want to read books that take place in my area, but I just don’t want them to be wrong. And then I have to think of all the settings for stories I have written that I have had zero exposure to. But they’re not published. For instance, I have a story I’ve started that is set in the Seattle area. I’ve never been to Seattle. I hope to go, especially before this story gets published (if it does, it’s not one of my top priority stories though). I would ask people from the area to read it. I would want to make sure it felt right.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the show Nashville. Actually, I’ve only seen one episode. And I do appreciate the show bringing exposure to the city, but not everyone here likes country music or has so much drama in their lives, HA.

How do you feel about books set in your area? Have you run across any that felt “off” to you? Have you read any that felt right?

16 thoughts on “When Books Take Place Where You Live

  1. Good question. I tend to avoid books or movies set where I grew up because they tend to idealize the area. I am more partial to books set in my current home of Atlanta, probably because I have less strong and more positive feelings about this city, but really haven’t read many good ones so far.

    • Have you read Parallel by Lauren Miller? Part of it takes place in Atlanta. That’s the only about there that I can think of that I have read. It’s contemporary YA with a sci-fi twist (parallel universes).

  2. I feel like it would be really annoying to read a book about where you live and find a ton of things wrong with it. And I totally agree with you…I’m not even from the South (although I went to college there), but who uses “y’all” ever, unless they’re talking to at least 2 people? That doesn’t even make any sense! I live in Rhode Island and there really aren’t a lot of books set here. I kind of wish that there were more! But I can definitely see the potential for getting bugged by some little thing that nobody else would even notice if they weren’t from the area.

    • I’m glad you understand, even not being Southern, how “y’all” works! I just thought that was so silly! I don’t think I’ve read any books set in Rhode Island either!

  3. I get really excited about books set in my area. It doesn’t happen very often in this part of Canada. I did read one set in the town where I did med school and it felt right. There is also a TV show set there that I haven’t watched but people tell me they did a pretty good job of it.

    It never occurred to me that the books might not always be true to the city or town where they are set. I guess because I’ve read so few from places where I have spent a lot of time. It would bother me if I knew they were wrong. Kind of like when TV shows set in hospitals get it wrong and it makes me a little crazy.

    • Ha ha, I can imagine hospital shows would drive you crazy! I roll my eyes every time I see a commercial for Gray’s Anatomy because I’m like, “Really? This isn’t about practicing medicine at all.”

  4. Well… I live in a town that is in a London Borough but can be counted as Essex too. There’s this show called The Only Way Is Essex and I HATE IT! It gives off the worst impression of people from Essex. Basically makes it seem like we are all mindless idiots who can’t talk properly. Not the case. So I totally understand why this gets to you when you are reading a book.

  5. For books set in Maryland (where I live now), Phyllis Naylor’s Alice series is set a little ways away from where I live, but I’ve never been to where it’s set. There’s also All of Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, which is set in D.C.. That definitely felt familiar to me, and I think it was done right! For books set in Maine (where I used to live), I just recently made a list on my blog called “The Way Life Should Be”: YA Books Set in Maine. Some of the books were also spot on, so I think I’ve been lucky to find those books!

  6. I have never, ever, ever read a book that took place where I lived or anywhere near where I lived. And I’m so disappointed! I know I’d definitely read about the setting with a more critical eye, but I think that would be half the fun. Maybe they have no idea, really. Or maybe it’s just how that particular person perceives the place. I’d be interested to see how the author painted my hometown, even if it was off.

  7. I haven’t read books that take place where I currently live, but I probably would if I read more local titles. However, I did live in Sydney for a while, and I was reading some of Melina Marchetta’s contemporary books a few weeks ago. I got this real rush of missing Sydney because the main characters describe streets and parks that I’ve walked through before, and some of the cultural references make me miss the people.

    • That’s cool! I haven’t read any books set in Houston, TX, where I lived for a while before I moved here, but I would like to. If it was well-done I’m sure it would make me miss it too!

  8. I had the same experience with the show Everwood. It’s supposed to be set in Colorado but the first time it was Halloween and there was no snow on the ground I was totally taken out of the episode because all I could think was: WRONG.

    I think that would be awesome – to travel to the different places where you set your books so you do it well. It’s why I’ve always been careful to set my in cities I’m really familiar with. Maybe that’s the lazy way – that I should learn new cities and expand my boundaries. But I’d rather be boring and authentic than get it wrong.

    • I had that experience with Iron Man 3 and I didn’t think to include it in the post! I didn’t try to analyze the Tennessee stuff too much because he was in the east and I live in the middle (east, middle, and west TN are all pretty distinct regions), but when it was snowing before Christmas? I was like, nope, not likely.

      I can definitely understand why you’d want to stick with what you know! Like you said, at least it will feel authentic!

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