What’s in a place?

I feel like “home” is such a nebulous concept. Not to get all weird and philosophical on a Wednesday (we’re all just trying to get through the week, right?), but I do think “home” means something different to absolutely every single person.

As a human who lived in the same small house in the same small town for the entirety of her childhood, I was always somewhat a “home is a place” person, and a lot of my associations with home revolve around that place. Then there’s the “home is who you’re with” camp – cue Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros bellowing, “HOME IS WHEREVER I’M WITH YOU!”. Then there are the deeply introspective souls like Noah Gundersen who sing lines like, “Home is not a person or a place but a feeling you can’t get back…”. Yeesh, nope, too deep! (Noah, bruh, chill out.) More like…

A photograph of an embroidery hoop holding black cloth onto which is embroidered the phrase, "Home is where the WiFi is".

Aaaaanyway. I’m getting carried away, but I’m thinking about home because in this, my final comparison post between Jenny Han‘s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and its protagonist Lara Jean, and Hayley Long‘s The Nearest Far Away Place and its central character Dylan, I want to talk about the importance of setting in these books. (If you’re interested in the other two posts, I previously ruminated on characters and tragedy. If you’re not interested, it’s fine, OK; I said it was FINE… *sobs*)

For LJ (upon whom I’ve bestowed a nickname, because she is apparently always called Lara Jean by everyone despite it being a mouthful, except for one guy who nicknames her Large…?!), home is Virginia, USA, and the story very rarely moves beyond her suburb. Her sister Margot starts college in Scotland and they briefly discuss an imagined trip to France which never actually materialises (unless it’s still on its way in the series…), but besides these two mentions, LJ’s world pretty much consists of her immediate environment and the people who inhabit it. (In the second book, which Ijust finished reading, there are a few mentions of the girls’ Korean heritage and a potential holiday to Korea, so let’s see where that goes.) In her reminiscence of her childhood, LJ remembers what a big deal it was when one of her then-friends, Genevieve (the villain! Boo, hiss!), moved across town, and how that move changed the dynamic of their friendship. She even thinks about how strange it is that so often as kids, who we become friends with has a lot to do with proximity – how close we live to one another.

Close-up of Virginia Department of Transportation Complex in Richmond VA
Virginia?! But I hardly even know ya! Photo by Taber Andrew Bain

In contrast to Lara Jean, Dylan and Griff have lived all over the world by the time they’re in their early- to mid-teens. The offspring of a British dad and a Welsh mom who have adventuring spirits, they live in Germany, China, Spain and New York (and maybe some other places, too – I don’t have the book on hand to fact-check!) before the car accident, and then move to Wales. So much of the story Dylan tells – so many of the memories he recounts – involve the place where he and his family lived at the time, landmarks in the area and the space he inhabited within that setting.

A photograph of the Munich skyline
Munich
A photograph of the Shanghai skyline
Shanghai
A photograph of the Barcelona skyline
Barcelona
A photograph of the Brooklyn skyline
Brooklyn

Despite these huge differences in setting, though, I’d argue that for both Lara Jean and Dylan, home is ultimately their family and the people who become that family, biological or otherwise. For both of them, home is the people they love the most. And hey, I know I said at the start of this post that home for me has always had a strong association with place… but I think I might just be a home-is-other-people person, too. All together now – and a one, and a two, and a three: Ah, hooooome! Let me come hooooome…

6 thoughts on “What’s in a place?

  1. Whoa, this is a beautiful post!

    I haven’t read The Nearest Faraway Place but I still really liked reading this post. ❤️

    My favorite part is you nicknaming Lara Jean! I’ve wondered the same thing too—her name is a mouthful! Teenagers don’t like big names.

    My name is just two syllables and even that gets shortened to one. Some would argue it’s because the nickname sounds like “shrew” and it’s befitting but nah, I won’t hear it and I won’t respond to it. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh, thank you! And thanks for following our blog ❤

      I noticed somewhere in the second book that Chris actually does call Lara Jean LJ *once*, but sheesh, it really is a lot to get your mouth around! I guess it forms a bit of her identity, though 😊

      I have all sorts of nicknames which I don’t mind too much, but it’s also funny considering Hannah is also only two syllables! 😂 People try to shorten anything. I really like your full name, though 😁 What does it mean?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I spent a large part of my life thinking it meant musical pitch (funny, because I can’t sing for shit and was kicked out of violin lessons 🤭), but I recently found out it also meant “being knowledgeable of the vedas”. Vedas are Indian scriptures. Again, don’t know those either. 😂

        But yeah. Those are the meanings. 😅

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haaaa! I was obsessed with word definitions as a kid, and that obsession then extended to name definitions. I think it’s great when name meanings match the person with the name, but it’s almost better when they’re the opposite. Hannah means “grace” and I’m the *most* clumsy person!

          Liked by 1 person

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