Cover Conversation of the Day
Before I get into the scandalous stuff here’s what I want you to know about Liar. It is a drop kick fantastic book. I can’t even fathom how skillfully written it is, and I really think any fans of mystery and psychological stories should read it. It’s unfair to Larbalestier and the integrity of her story that 3 years later and I focusing on the cover controversy instead of her magnificent story. I feel guilty.
But onto the scandal.
Summer 2009 I went to the YALSA convention in Chicago, as part of my work reviewing teen books at the public library. I received a whole bunch of Advanced Readers Copies (Books given to people in publishing—and on rare occasions awkward teenage reviewers—to review before the book comes out.) I was most excited to read a book called Liar. The back cover told me it was a psychological thriller narrated by a compulsive liar. What more could I want?
The book I received had the cover on the right. A white girl with straight light hair covering her mouth. I thought the cover was a really cool concept, because the girl is a compulsive liar, right?
One of the first things the reader learns about Micah is that she is biracial and identifies as black. I remember reading that, closing the book to stare at the cover, rereading the paragraph and just being stunned. Micah revealed that she kept her hair natural and short. There was no way we were supposed to believe that the chick on the cover was Micah.
Once I got home I immediately looked into it, and found out that I wasn’t the only one who was angry. Hundreds of people who had received an ARC were outraged, and most importantly, so was Justine Larbalestier. Just like all authors, she didn’t get to make the final call on the cover, and she was far from pleased.
The publisher made excuses. They claimed the cover was to reflect Micah’s complex psyche. Micah lies about most everything, but in the story it is unwaveringly and inescapably true that Micah is black. But in the backlash, this excuse became obviously hollow and unacceptable.
Very soon after the controversy broke out, Bloomsbury changed the cover to the one you see on the left. But even with it changed, there remained an ongoing online discussion about the culture of whitewashing covers.
Before the Liar controversy I had no idea that white washing on book covers was nowhere near uncommon. It is my white privilege that I saw covers with girls like me on them, and never questioned why those were the only faces I saw. Publishers have over and over, and without shame, put white characters on the covers of books with main characters of color. And despite YA cover culture being saturated with human faces, cover designs rarely feature POC, even when the plot and cast 100% merits it.
Covers matter. Covers are the first reason a reader picks up a book. And those covers are lying to us. Publishers don’t stick white girls on covers for no reason. Research shows that faces sell well. But I have read nothing about white faces selling better than covers featuring characters of color. However, year after year white faces dominate. In 2011 90% of YA book covers featured a white character. 1.2% featured a black character and only .02% more feature Latin@ or Asian characters on the cover (source). If publishers love putting people on covers so much, are we to believe that only 1.2% of YA books feature black main characters? I am aware white characters are majority in YA, but come on. That little representation is just ridiculous.
And I have no idea what can be done to make publishers see that this is not ok.
What do you think? What can we, as readers, do?
57 Notes/ Hide
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- bragfordboy answered: Im sad to say that the only book I’ve read with a colored main character was “Freedom Train” when I was on six grade, and IM colored! :p
- sydgirl42 answered: Omg i LOVEEEEEEEED this book so much. I’ve reread this about 3 times and every time I pick up on something that I missed the first times.
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- joejoeyjojojosejoseph answered: We need to first observe all perspectives, just because the cover seems right, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t belong or doesn’t have msg in it
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- life-in-the-margins answered: As readers, we need to openly buy and review books that feature POC characters and we need to tell our friends to read them.
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- mint-vintageshop answered: Thank you for posting about this book . This will be my next read!
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