Geoguessr and YA Lit: Navigating the World with Barely a Clue
Like a lot of people, I’ve developed a fondness for a little game called Geoguessr over the past few weeks. The game presents you with a Google Street View of somewhere in the world, and your goal is to identify the mystery location based on what you see. I’m really into it. You might even say I’m obsessed. I mean … sleep? Who needs it?! I just guessed within 30 feet of a location in Japan! (No cheating with Google, either. Booyah!)
What I love about this game is the feeling of disorientation — the feeling of being dropped in the middle of somewhere unfamiliar and having to figure out your location based on clues. Sometimes the clues are clear, like a famous landmark or signs written in an identifiable language. Other times, the clues are nothing more than the type of trees or the color of the soil.
And as awesome as it is when you guess accurately, it’s just as delightful when you mistake Paraguay for Portugal, because you learn something new about the world from the experience. In fact, navigating the world this way is kind of like trying to get through the teen years: you revel in your wins and gain knowledge from your mistakes.
Playing Geoguessr makes me think of YA novels where characters are thrown into a situation that requires them to navigate almost blindly, whether it’s a new place, a new emotion, or circumstances that are simply beyond their control. They’re forced to muddle through based on whatever clues they can piece together as they go, and they usually come out on the other side with a whole new perspective.
In between Geoguessr rounds, I’ve put together a list of a few titles that come to mind while playing this game.
Every Day by David Levithan (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten selection)
Genderless “A” inexplicably wakes up in a different person’s body each day. To make it through the day without wreaking havoc in someone else’s life, A strives to assume the identity of his/her host body as much as possible. While A is able to access memories from each host, he/she navigates primarily through clues as each day unfolds: social cues from family members, the cleanliness of the host’s bedroom, contents of a school locker. A is accustomed to wandering through each day this way, until he/she spends a day as Rhiannon’s boyfriend — and falls in love.
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (2006 Teens’ Top Ten winner)
Introverted Ginny is roped into following a trail of clues around Europe left by her late aunt, who wanted her to broaden her horizons and experience what the world has to offer. She bravely sets off by plane but soon finds herself confused and disoriented, trying to find her way on a journey that’s both physical and symbolic, leading her through new sights and a huge amount of personal growth. Ginny’s reluctant yet life-changing travels continue in the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (2011 Teens’ Top Ten winner)
After a fatal car crash, mean girl Samantha is stuck reliving the last day of her life until she gets it “right.” At first, she has no clue what’s going on, and she has to try to figure out her circumstances without attracting undue attention. She can’t admit to anyone that she’s reliving the same day again and again, so she navigates through the day over and over, picking up information from her surroundings and learning something new about herself and others each time.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (2010 Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten selection)
A young man with an austism-like disorder is faced with navigating the “real world” for the first time when he takes a summer job in the mailroom of his father’s law office. Until this point, he has stayed in his comfort zone, but suddenly he’s faced with complex social situations and finds himself needing to take notes to avoid a misstep. Though Marcelo feels disoriented and overwhelmed at times, he uses his unique strengths and determination to try and make a difference.
Also Known As by Robin Benway
Raised in a globe-trotting spy family, safe-cracking sixteen-year-old Maggie faces her toughest assignment yet: going undercover as a regular high school student in New York. She has to navigate a world completely foreign to her — trying to fit in, making her first friend, and getting close to a cute boy to gain access to privileged information without blowing her cover.
There you have it: my Geoguessr-inspired list of YA fiction. And if you’re wondering how many times I stopped to play Geoguessr while writing this post … oh, approximately 50,000. Join me in this obsession! Sleep is overrated.
— Allison Tran, currently reading When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney