books · discussions · shanti

Wanted: Settings from Elsewhere (ideally, ownvoices)

Good day, Virtually Readers! (I’m trying to mix up the greeting, clearly at risk of sounding like a stuck up 19th century nobleperson) I love love love talking about settings (did The Bookish Planet or my guest post at The Silver Words clue you in?) so today I thought I’d talk about why I’m sick of some settings. (I kind of alluded to this in my North of Happy post) Also, why setting matters so much. I kind of did this in my ‘exotic’ post, but you know, it’s been a while and I’ve had more ideas. So.


Firstly, some settings I’m sick of

  • small town America
  • New York
  • LA
  • Medium sized town America
  • Boston
  • Rural America
  • actually anywhere in America
  • London
  • anywhere in Europe if the character is not European
  • Cruise ships
  • magical islands
  • magical forests
  • Medival European fantasy worlds

These settings aren’t inherently bad. There are a lot of people who live there—in fact, that probably includes most of the people who read and buy YA. But for me, who has never been to America, who hasn’t spent much time in Europe, I find that these settings don’t describe my lived experience. That’s fine. I have a vivid imagination; I can imagine myself in those places. In fact, at this point, I basically feel like I’ve been there. But I wish that there were more settings outside these narrative boundaries.

What makes me really sad is when stories bend to these expectations. A story doesn’t have to be #ownvoices for setting, but I’ve seen New Zealand, Australian, British, Mexican and Indian writers set their stories in the US, when the settings could just have been the countries they come from, which I’d prefer. I don’t know why this is; maybe they write it that way, maybe the setting proved a point, maybe the publisher asked for it. But it seems like a power imbalance to me.

When you belong to the setting you’re writing, it’s going to be more authentic. It’ll have details that generic, nameless settings won’t. That makes a difference to me, even if it’s not a setting I’m familiar with.

So I’m going to segway into part two: some settings that I do want to see more of—or that I wish existed.

  • South American settings/inspired tales. There are an okay number of Latinx characters in YA books, but very few Latin settings. Give me a story in the Yucatan peninsula or Bolivian highlands or Colombian coffee plantations or Atacama desert.
  • Sci-fi and dystopia that is outside of the US and is international. Something that always troubles me about dystopias like The Hunger Games and Divergent is that they never mention other countries. I want more stories like The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (futuristic South Africa).
  • Contemporary Middle Eastern stories. This goes for China as well: there are lots of fantasies that use elements from these cultures, but I want more. (I’m very demanding)
  • More #ownvoices fantasy, with Pacifika people, or maybe Caribbean, like Brown Girl in the Ring.

I don’t really know what this post is about. The need for #ownvoices settings, I suppose. And that’s really on the publishing industry, what they decide is sellable. But readers are the ones who buy, and if I don’t buy bland American settings, if I buy ones like the ones I’ve described, or even ones I can’t imagine, whether it’s fantasy or sci-fi or dystopia, I can make a difference.

I’m a good like individualistic capitalist. The corporations are fond of me. (Sorry, I’m reading Beauty Queens right now and anarchy is on the mind)

I have a lot more to say about setting and why it’s important to me but I have a lot more time to say it, so I’m going to leave this here.

Do you like your settings to be ownvoices? What’s a setting you’d love to read about? (and yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘the place where I live’) Tell me in the comments!


14 thoughts on “Wanted: Settings from Elsewhere (ideally, ownvoices)

  1. I’ve read more than once where an author had an interesting setting & they were told to change it before it was published to make it more “accessible” to a wider audience :/
    I live in small town America and I’m perfectly willing and happy to read a book set somewhere else. And I don’t need dialects and colloquial language Americanized for me either publishers, thank you very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m curious to see how this might be accomplished, especially if we were to talk about settings in South or Central America, for example. From what I am aware of, it takes a little time to get books spread around between the United States, Britain, and Australia, but it isn’t too difficult because the books are likely already in English. Meanwhile, if we’re picking an ownvoices book from South America, the book likely began in Spanish or Portuguese, and I don’t know what the YA industry looks like down there. I’m sure it’s easy to get a hold of translations from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but he’s a literary phenomenon and all that. It’s something I’d need to research more, but diffusing literature from language to language has always struck me as a complicated process unless the writer in question is already bilingual and spends time between cultures. I dunno.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really agree with the points about all dystopia basically being set in the USA, and being completely fed up with European medievalist high fantasy! The latter trope is sooooo lazy. I feel like authours just jump on it when they want a cardboard cut out magical courtly chivalrous world, and then so they often don’t bother to add enough of an original twist or realistic detail to make it anything other than just like, a really boring and shallow Grimm’s fairytale background… except way less dark than actual Grimm’s fairytales *cough Sarah J Maas cough*.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As someone who lives on an island with a small-medium population, I completely relate to what you said about most settings not being your lived experience. I’ve never heard of The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm but I’m definitely intrigued! As for the dystopias set in the US with no mention of the rest of the world: I like to pretend that the US descended into madness all on its own while the rest of the world just goes on with its life, waiting for the dystopia-tantrum to end.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think more books set in Australia would be awesome 🙂

    And concerning the dystopians being ALWAYS set in the USA… you’re right, those books never seem to mention other countries. So I like to imagine the rest of the world being like “meh, the US is so weird… we shall have some international peace and prosperity, and /they/ are not invited. that’s what you get for building a literal wall around yourself.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is ridiculously relatable!! One of the reasons I dislike dystopian is because in my head it’s inherently associated with being strictly American?? Which of course is ridiculously biased and unfair on my part. I just need to find me some good dystopian books which are set/talk about anywhere but America, seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I toootally agree. No offence to America, but I’m really sick of reading about it.😂 I want to read books set in ALL THE COUNTRIES. I basically could write an American book and have it sound authentic at this point and just aurghugugh I want to tread SOMETHING ELSE. When I started writing, I set my books in America because I thought that’s what you did. I WISH it was more common to find diverse settings. Also, I mean, Australia isn’t exactly considered a diverse place but where are my Aussie fantasies and dystopians?!? And I want more fantasy cultures that aren’t Western!! SO BADLY.


  8. Thanks for sharing, Shanti!
    I agree that there should be more diverse settings in literature. Why does so many stories need to take place in the US?
    As a Chinese-Canadian, I absolutely ADORE reading books that take place in Asia. I’ve seen a recent trend towards books featuring more diverse characters and settings, so I think that is a move for the better 🙂



  9. I love this post so, so much. I can barely ever relate to a setting in a book because all of the books are mostly set in all of the places you mention and since I live in France well…I never read a book set in France with a French character. I have read Anna and The French Kiss but yeah, it’s not exactly the same thing. Also, I would LOVE to read more books set in different countries like the ones you quoted. And yes, why are dystopian stories always in the US?! That’s weird ahah.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hey Shanti, this is a really good post and yes, we really need more #ownvoices books. Do you follow the #DiverseBookBloggers hashtag on twitter? That can give you a lot of great ownvoices books in a variety of settings. Also, there are some good bloggers out there who blog about such books, and can give you heaps of suggestions.


  11. Oh yes, we really need more diverse settings! I mean, I’m fine with anything, but I’d rather read about a place I don’t know much about to broaden my knowledge. I’d LOOOVE to see some settings in Thailand, since that’s where my family comes from. I’d also like to see a setting in Texas (my state) and it’s NOT stereotypical. The only books I’ve read placed in Texas are Benjamin Alire Saénz’s two contemporaries, and since he lives in Texas it’s pretty accurate. XD Love this post, Shanti! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yessss we need more books set in South America because, let’s be honest, it’s the best continent 😉
    I totally agree with you here, way too many books are set in the US and it’s becoming pretty tiresome for me seeing as I’ve never been there either. What I really want is more African and Asian settings? Because I really want to learn more about those places.
    Great post 🙂
    Simi ~


  13. I love this post!! While I do love being able to relate to so many stories (I live about an hour from Boston) it does get a little repetitive after a while. Settings are so important and can really make a story unique and interesting… bring on the different settings!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. OH MY GOD SHANTI I LOVED THIS! I really believe settings should be ownvoices because it feels so authentic! I hate when books are always set in the US and I don’t relate at all! Recently, an Australian author was being interviewed and she shared how because her book was being published in the US (after it came out in Australia) she had to go through an entire editing process where she had to ‘un-Australianize’ the book and make it more suitable for American audiences and I hate how they have to do that because American books are never ‘Australianized’ before being published here.


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