January 31, 2011

Find the Gap: Setting

Let's face it, despite the fact that YA has really exploded over the past several years and so many more YA books are being published, there are still some topics that just don't seem to get covered. I've noticed other bloggers sometimes mention that they'd like to see more YA books with characters with quality x or settings in time period y or what-have-you. So I thought I'd run a little "Find the Gap" series through February, with a different aspect of YA each week that we can discuss.

First up is setting. We've all read the typical 'high school' contemporary YA read, and the traditional fantasy world where there be dragons. And if it's historical YA there is a better-than-average chance it's going to be set in the Victorian era (which I do love, don't get me wrong). But what's missing? What places or time periods do we never get to travel to in a YA novel?

Here are a few to get things going:

- Colleges and universities: there have been a few more of these popping up in YA recently, but still not nearly as many as I'd like. College students like to read too, you know, and often they like to read about students like themselves!

- Countries other than the United States: there are so many interesting places around the world you could give your story as a setting...so why always go with the U.S.? The novel's relatability won't entirely vanish just because it's not set in an American city. I'd say "outside North America" but actually, I haven't read very many YA novels set in Canada or Mexico. More of those would be nice too!

- Small towns: not everyone lives in a large city. I know there have been some YA books written where the whole point was either big-city-girl-meets-farming-community (or conversely, country-dweller-lands-in-the-big-bad-city), but how about some that just *happen* to be set in a small town?

- Parallel universes: these seem to crop up more in movies than in books, for some reason. But there's so much potential in that kind of concept, and I think it would be particularly appealing to the older YA set.

- The sixties: this was such a hugely important time period on just about every level (politically, socially, etc.) And it was very much a time for young people. Why are there not more YA books about it? No idea.

What other settings spring to mind for you? And are there any books you've come across that do address some of the gaps above?


  1. Great idea! I'll have to think more about this! :) I love this post!

  2. Cool post! Parallel universes- that's what one of my books I'm working on is about! Awesome to know it's something lacking out there. Also I would love to read a book set in the 60's, or the 50's, or any other American decade. That's an awesome idea!

  3. I would love for more books to take place in colleges but I think a small part of me thinks it wouldn't be as exciting xP high school's full of hormones and crazy teens where as in uni everyone's sort of focused on why they're there. At least in my case lol
    Parallel universes would be totally cool though. I don't think I've ever read a book like that!

  4. I agree, I think books set in the '60s would be great. I wonder if the era is still too politically charged? As in, could it just be a normal realistic book set in the 1960s, or would it have to address all the politics of the day? I think people might be afraid of not representing it accurately. But I know I would definitely read a book set in that time period... something like American Dreams in a novel version.

    Parallel universes are awesome, so I would definitely pick up one of those. Same with college/uni set books... I think 'emerging adult' is becoming more of a trend, so it would be awesome to read about more protagonists who are 18 - 20.

    Since I'm Canadian I'd definitely love to read more books set in Canada. It seems like even some Canadian authors are writing about an American setting. Does this just sell more or something? It's strange... it seems like there's no market for anything Canadian in the US. When I say this I'm thinking about the show 'Being Erica' which is a CBC show, and shows on SoapNet in the States.... but then ABC optioned it for a new pilot. It's a Canadian show... does it really need to be changed for an American viewing audience? So strange.

    Anyway, this is a super long comment, but I think this was a good thing to think about. Setting can be very important, and it would be nice to see something more unique sometimes.

  5. @Ashley: Thanks! :)

    @Ava: Neat that you're working on a parallel universes story - we could definitely use more of those!

    @Laura: True, high school does provide quite an opportunity for angst/drama (although university dorm life can be exciting too!)

    @Ashley: Wow, thanks for that nice long comment! Hmmm, good point about a '60s book. I think it could be either (politically charged or not), depending on what angle is taken and how broad the scope is. There would probably be some effect of the current events, though, so that would have to be researched and portrayed accurately. I would totally read it though!

    I think maybe you're right in that authors think it will sell better if it's placed in the U.S. Maybe they think American readers won't want to read about a story set in Canada? *shakes head* I really don't understand it.

  6. Great topic! I second the idea of settings outside the U.S. Many teens travel widely today, either to visit far-flung family members, to partake in service learning experiences, or for fun -- some even taking a year off before college to do so. A lot of soul-searching and growth happens when people go outside their everyday context. And for teens who don't have the opportunity to travel widely (yet), I'm sure many are interested in those who do. Witness the soaring popularity of "Anna and the French Kiss."

    Another setting I'd love to see more of, in contrast, is jobs where teens work. Either summer jobs or part time jobs. The more mundane the better. A lot of drama happens around the workplace, and many teens do log a lot of hours behind counters or grills or restaurant hosting stations or at farm stands, etc. I love Sarah Dessen's "Along for the Ride" because so much of it happens in the retail world -- a bike shop and a clothing store. Lots can happen in a small space with people who see each other every day at a summer job!

  7. Very interesting!
    Not just the 60s - there are few books set in the 1940s through the 1990s. It's all really old or current.
    Also, there are hardly any books set in Canada. Plenty in England and Australia though. Not many in South Africa.

  8. I'm with you on reading more stories set in colleges or universities and certainly more set in other countries. I've loved the few I've read that are set abroad (like Anna and the French Kiss), I think it just adds an extra layer to the story to have another culture introduced almost as another character. Fun post, I'm looking forward to future topics!

  9. Great discussion post! I would love to read a historical fiction of YA set in the 1950s. One of a character trying to find their place, either they don't fit in with the ideals or they're part of the break out movement to accept things like rock, women being away from home, etc.

  10. You always come up with such interesting discussion posts :)
    I agree with you about the sixties setting, I've only ever read one upper middle grade book set there. Maybe I just don't know about them, but I've found there are a lot more YA historicals set in Tudor times than there are Victorian.
    I'd like to see more historicals set the georgian/regency period.

  11. It's strange, because event though there are cultural differences, Canada is not completely foreign, and yet most of the mentions I see of it in books are just as jokes. :/

    and re: your comment on my blog, yes, I adore Being Erica... it's just so lovely and funny, and the characters are great

  12. Some great comments here!

    @Diana: Definitely with you on the travel aspect. Often in high school there are school trips to Europe and such (I took part in one!) and then there's definitely the gap year thing as well. I thoroughly enjoyed Anna & the French Kiss and that was partly due to the Paris setting!

    Also thanks for the suggestion of the workplace. I hadn't thought about that one but you're right, a lot of teens do end up with summer jobs or part-time work and there can be *so* much drama sometimes in the work place :D

    @Alison: Yep, you're right, all of those decades could really use some more YA books!

    @Jenny: Definitely, it's fabulous when the author brings out the culture of the setting so well it feels like its own character.

    @Jenni: Exactly! I think the 50s and 60s would make a great setting for a YA story because it ties into the themes of the struggle for identity so well.

    @Stephanie: Thanks! Hmmm, I was probably using the term "Victorian" a bit more loosely than I should have been. I have read some set in the Regency period but several of them are YA fantasy (like Sorcery & Cecelia, the Bewitching Season) and not simply historical.

    @Ashley: I know, Canada is not very foreign at all! Sure, there are cultural differences, but they're fairly small, all things considered. Sometimes I'll come across a mention of Canada but more often than not it is a joke, like you say. Would like to see some YA books that aren't trying really hard to be "Canadian" but do take place in Canada!

  13. This is so interesting! Great idea. I agree that small towns and other countries would be a nice change. The 60's might be too political? I think authors don't want to turn off a portion of their audience due to political views. But it could work if the main character was more so observing the world around him/her instead of really being in on the action.

  14. We definitely need more books involving colleges/universities and those outside of the US.

    I know The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong takes place in Vancouver :)

  15. How very interesting! Great post!

    Happy reading,


  16. Great post, Danya.

    There's a book coming out on March 23rd, called Purple Daze, which is set in the 60s. I also have a copy of The Way It Is, which is written by a Canadian author that is set in the 60s.

    While it's true that the Victorian era is often the setting for a lot of historical YA, here are a few that I've read that are set in different times: I, Coriander, which is set in the 1640s, The Red Necklace,, which is set in the 18th century, and Rose Sees Red, which is set in the 80s. I'd highly recommend them all. The Red Necklace has a sequel called The Silver Blade, but I haven't read it yet.

    If you're looking for small towns, then I'd recommend Kiss It, which seemed really true to life to me.

    I've also read a few books that are set outside of the US, including Bamboo People (takes place in Burma), Rhythm and Blues, The Uninvited, Ghost Ride, Mind Gap, Lure, Word Nerd (all of these take place in Canada), Dear George Clooney Please Marry My Mom (takes place in Vancouver and the US), Wildthorn, Folly (the previous two take place in England), Puppet (takes place in Hungary), The Book of Tomorrow (takes place in Ireland), Stolen (takes place in England, Thailand, and Australia)...hmmmm...that's all I can think of now.

    In case anyone wants to learn more, as of today, I've reviewed all of these books on my site, except for the two books from the 60s and The Book of Tomorrow, although that review will be up fairly soon as well. :)

  17. @Danielle: Thanks! Hmmm, I suppose the political aspect is something they'd have to approach thoughtfully, given that a majority of their readers would be American.

    @A Canadian Girl: Yes, the Gathering has caught my eye for exactly that reason!

    @chelleyreads: Thanks!

    @Melissa: Wow, thanks for the nice long list of recs! :) I will have to check some of these out. I am aware of Purple Daze and interested to see how the sixties are handled in that one. I, Coriander is also a great read (I studied that one in university and found it quite interesting). A lot of the others you mention I haven't read so I think I'll be adding some more to my never-ending tbr list!


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