Evanston and Authenticity

Posted in Favorite Books, Geography at 7:24 am by Janet

Even though I no longer have a crush on John Green, I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson as soon as I could get my hands on it. I loved it. I was particularly excited that the book is set in the Chicago area and that the Will Grayson parts of the story are set in my town, Evanston.

In library school and on various listservs, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of authenticity in multicultural literature for children.  What I hear over and over is  that it is important to be sure you’re depicting a people from a particular culture or place fairly and accurately. But now I wonder…do you have to represent a town accurately? Does geographical authenticity matter?

Does Evanston’s high school really have lots of murals of its mascot? Does Jane’s house at 1712 Wesley exist and does it really have a porch? Am I being too obsessive? I mean, I live here and I don’t know. Then again, I’m not really the audience the author had in mind, given that I’m, you know, not a teenager. (I do know, however, that Will and Tiny and Jane drove home from the Hideout way quicker than is actually possible, at least when I’m driving. )

I’m still undecided (maybe you people out there can help me decide), but here’s how I’m leaning on this question. In this case, geographical authenticity matters when it shapes the story. It matters that Will Grayson and Tiny live in Evanston because it’s far away from will grayson, who I think is supposed to live over in the southwest suburb of Naperville. It also matters matters because Tiny and Will Grayson are Evanston rich kids, and will grayson is not a rich kid (although I’ve heard there are plenty of rich kids in Naperville). These are things that might pull the characters apart, but various events and strong feelings conspire to bring them together. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter because a story can be, well, just a story. The murals on the wall at ETHS don’t push the story forward, nor do they hold it back. Sometimes fiction is fiction, in that it’s made up,  but it sure is neat when the details correspond with reality.

I’m hoping to give WGWG to a recent ETHS grad, and we’re also going to do a book discussion at my library (one suburb north) on it later this summer. Perhaps some of those teens can tell me if it is authentic, and whether or not it matters to them. I’ll get back to you on that.


  1. Amanda said,

    June 22, 2010 at 11:39 am

    YES! Yes it is important! It drives me bonkers when I read a book or see a movie set in Madison and all of the details are wrong.

  2. Bridget said,

    July 8, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I actually didn’t catch that the novel was set in Evanston at all when I read it, but probably would have if I lived there. Except that I KNOW someone who lives there and I still didn’t catch it. So I guess it wasn’t important to my enjoyment of the book. But on the other hand I love it when a book is set where I live and is accurate — I like walking down Klickitat street and stomping in puddles for example and when I read about someone else doing that it’s very satisfying. Klickitat isn’t geographically located where BC set it though and this bothers me not at all.

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