I've just read two of the most bizarre comments of the year so far, in a review of Fangirl in the Daily Telegraph. Calling it 'teenage schlock' is bad enough (although in fairness, Lorna Bradbury says it's "clever enough to keep you reading on") but there's a line here which stunned me. "...its American college setting may grate on British ears."
Seriously? With the fantastic #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign going on at the moment, hoping that more books about diverse characters will be published, it's soul-destroying to suggest that British readers can't even cope with a setting which is one of the most popular on TV. I mean, to struggle with a US college setting, you'd have to have missed out on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 90210, Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, One Tree Hill, The OC, Gilmore Girls, Greek, and lots of others. I would imagine most YA fans had seen at least a few of those shows and loved them.
I just can't believe it's the case that Brits can't cope with a setting like this. Because if it IS true that they're not able to cope with the American college as a backdrop for life, will they struggle with even less familiar ones, that they can't see on TV pretty much every day? India at the time of Partition, as portrayed so brilliantly in Irfan Master's A Beautiful Lie? Laini Taylor's epic fantasy trilogy, starting with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which so breathtakingly describes Prague? For that matter, will James Dawson's Hollow Pike only really be accessible to people who've lived in a rural village? The same question could be asked about dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of others, but Laini Taylor's success alone shows the answer is a resounding no! I think teens, and older (and even younger) YA fans, can appreciate a good book whatever the setting.
(To balance out my criticism of Lorna Bradbury's review - perhaps I'm focusing far too much on one line - I should point out she's one of my favourite people writing about YA and children's books in the mainstream media; I particularly liked this weekend's excellent children's crime recommendations.)
What do you think? How important is it to have experienced the setting of a book for yourself?
Sunday, 4 May 2014
On Settings, Fangirl, and Diversity
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
First blog post for some time, and there's a fair chance this will get super-rambly. I basically have a LOT of thoughts about reviews, c...
I'm delighted to welcome my wife, the wonderful Eldritch Soda (I tried to get her to change her name to Eldritch Dean, but no luck, sadl...
I love the ingenuity of author Sophie Kirtley in today's Indie Advent post, a 10 step countdown of fabulous reasons to shop at Salisbury...
I take your point about the notion that people should be able to follow stories with a background not their own. If nothing else, there are all those American films and TV series we are bombarded with regularly, including the ones you mention. Pity the American publishers also don't think their readers could cope with anything from overseas! Books are rewritten, titles changed, even, in some cases, films dubbed for the benefit of American audiences who I'm pretty sure aren't anywhere near as dumb as the publishers, etc, seem to think! Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Fangirl, even though I never lived on campus when I was studying and living in isn't compulsory here. The fan fiction references were enough for me to feel comfortable.ReplyDelete
Yes, I think it's ridiculous to dismiss a book just based on it's setting alone. For many, it is the complete opposite. You find out a book is set somewhere other than the place you live, and it makes you want to read it that much more - especially if you're someone who loves to read for escape, to see new perspectives, to learn more about the world. It may be unusual or different from what you expect, but that doesn't mean you won't grow to understand it. Diversity, no matter what the element (character, setting, relationships, family dynamics, health, genre, etc.), should be accepted and encouraged.ReplyDelete
Fangirl is really NOT the sort of thing I'd normally read but I loved it. I'm a geeky sort of person, I've done the whole fanfiction thing and oddly enough, the fact that it was set in the US really didn't have much of an impact on me beyond a perfunctory 'oh, it's college not Uni'. Now granted I'm not a teen, but I like to think that most teens wouldn't have much more of a reaction beyond that either. Certainly in my job I've never encountered any teens exclaiming 'oh my God, this is so hard to get into! It's just so AMERICAN! It's like it's a whole other culture!' :p With the exposure we get to American tv over here I'm willing to bet teens and adults are far more familiar with US culture than they are with cultures from around the world, so much so that I'm willing to be proved wrong that it requires little to no shift in thinking to really get into a book set over there.ReplyDelete
To suggest that Brits can't cope with an American College setting is just plain ridiculous, she really didn't put an thought into that one at all, unless she was just speaking for herself of course. I agree with what bookauhu above has said, with the amount of exposure to US tv over here it's exceedingly hard to believe that the Brits have no clue about US culture and that a US school environment would be totally alien to them..... stupid statement indeed!ReplyDelete
Thea @ Gizzimomo's Book Shelf
As an avid Ya reader I can say that if Ya readers can cope with a setting and world building the likes found in many dystopian books like The Hunger Games and Divergent, I'm sure they can cope with the American college setting. As someone who attended college in aboard and did not experince high school or college in the US or the UK it IS slightly perplexing. I do not usually enjoy the setting but if the story is good enough, I'm game.ReplyDelete
Samina @ Escapism from Reality
And acing said all this I finally read the review itself. "Schlock" is unfair and way too strong, but I got the impression she actually quite liked it and knew young readers would. It's just that after the glowing review above it, it sounds dismissive.ReplyDelete
I don't feel she was saying that British people wouldn't cope with the US setting, rather that they'd find it 'grating', ie...somewhat distasteful! it's a 'very American' book indeed, full of loud people, extreme sentimentality, American brands and love for American pop culture (and consumer culture). I think her claim here is very interesting. It's not so much a question of not being able to cope with 'diversity' but perhaps quite the contrary- having to deal with such in-your-face cultural and economic dominance! I found her review fairly positive, personally, though 'schlock' is indeed a strong word.ReplyDelete
Ooh, interesting, and hadn't thought about it that way! I genuinely don't think the vast majority of YA readers would find the setting grating/distasteful because I would imagine the aforementioned TV shows have made it almost as familiar to them as the UK settings are - but perhaps that's my own taste in TV showing through!Delete
I completely agree with you - where she is wrong is that she assumes that people the book targets aren't used to/ don't already love such settings. She's just not the target audience - and, to be honest, I felt when reading Fangirl that I wasn't the target audience either. Which is why I understand her feeling, though I think you're absolutely right when you say that people for whom Fangirl is truly marketed are people who will love it in part thanks to that setting and atmosphere.Delete
Personally, I LOVE reading books set in other countries, particularly non English-speaking ones. If a YA is set in another country and culture, that alone is definitely enough to pique my interest (although admittedly I do tend to prefer UKYA to USYA.) And 'schlock' is just a horrible way to describe any novel.ReplyDelete