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?