Saturday, July 25, 2009

Of books and teens and covers

I follow a lot of YA authors' blogs, but Justine Larbalestier's is one of my favorites because of the way she picks at politics and digs at social issues and is generally charming and witty all the while. She has a new book coming out in September called Liar, and there's been some discussion on her blog lately about the US cover image. In Larbalestier’s words, “Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed.” And Micah, the lying narrator, “is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short.”

The controversy that’s sprung up lately centers on the picture of a white girl with long hair pulled about her face that Bloomsbury chose to use as the book’s cover art here in the US. Larbalestier’s blog post addressing the controversy offers a wealth of links to other discussions of race and YA lit and visual representations of non-white characters, and it's worth the time it will take you to explore them. Shortly after her post went live, Publisher's Weekly also posted a short piece about the debate.

And in a related vein, I was chatting with a friend of mine who works in publishing (this was before the current debate made it onto my radar) about Suzanne Collins' YA book The Hunger Games, and part of that conversation stuck with me. My friend mentioned that she'd heard through Scholastic's grapevine that Collins works hard to create characters that are defined by who they are rather than what they look like, and she prefers her covers to leave visual representations of the characters to readers' imaginations. Certainly, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are indicative of that desire, but like Larbalestier explained, authors don’t usually have any say in their books’ covers and some of the The Underland Chronicles books do have kids on their covers.

So what's your take on all this? Are Larbalestier's arguments about the way teens will perceive Micah after viewing the cover valid? And would it be worth starting this conversation with teens in our libraries about book covers and white washing in the publishing world?

3 comments:

Melissa said...

This is such a fascinating discussion...thank you Bridget! We know for sure this isn't the first time this has happened, either.

Bridget said...

Also! While there are currently 268 comments on Larbalestier's post, it's worth it to at least skim them. A lot of authors are chatting in the comments and linking to posts on their blogs with more discussions and all sorts of interesting points.

Alyson said...

Kind of tricky to support the author but let the publisher know that you don't like their decision.