Place as Character

There’s nothing like reading a book set in your hometown. I was born and raised in San Francisco. I went to school here. I live here now. And tonight I went up to the roof to experience my San Francisco. Ships passing in the Bay called out to each other, the fog blanketed the city so only the brightest lights were visible—a few from Ghirardelli Square, the TV glow from tall apartment buildings a few blocks away, and always, always the beacon from Alcatraz. I’ve only been to The Rock once. Though these days it’s a popular historical tourist destination, it's bleak and eerie, no place you’d want to spend days, months, years of your life. Even though I see it from a distance at least once a day, I never fully experienced it until I read Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Does My Shirts and now Al Capone Shines My Shoes.

Gennifer is a great writer. She creates believable characters who lead interesting lives, but in these books in particular she has handed her readers a mostly silent character who dictates much of how the other characters spend their days—San Francisco. Read her books and you’ll feel as if you’ve lived here too.

What other books deliver this same familiar feeling? The Heights by Brian James is essentially a retelling of the classic Wuthering Heights peopled with contemporary teens set in the exclusive San Francisco neighborhoods of Pacific Heights and Sea Cliff. He has perfectly captured the look, feel, even smell of the City’s fog and all its deceptive, mysterious, confusing, even protective qualities.

When I read the scenes from Wild Girls by Pat Murphy that take place on the UC Berkeley campus, I was immediately sent back in time to my college days walking through Sather Gate. Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume dropped me smack dab in the middle of my trip to the plantation houses outside New Orleans. And though I didn’t grow up in New York City, I felt like I could see the sidewalks outside Miranda’s apartment while reading When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

I could go on, but won’t. What books have you read that are set in places familiar to you? I’d love to take a trip to your hometown.


- Summer, Books Inc. Laurel Village