Back in April, I was able to borrow an ARC of Justine Larbalestier‘s Liar to read from a coworker. I’d been really excited about Liar since Justine mentioned it on her blog, and it really did live up to my expectations–I loved it, and I can’t wait until it officially comes out so that I can talk to people about it. It was so good, you guys!

The only thing I didn’t like about Liar was its cover. Aesthetically, it didn’t appeal to me–the girl on the cover is striking (the size of those eyes! It reminds me of Little Red Riding Hood: “Grandma, what big eyes you have”, etc. etc.), but the B&W (ironic!) just didn’t do it for me, and I personally hate that neon green color the type is in. I much prefer the Australian cover.

n317254Bloomsbury (American) Liar cover

liarozAllen & Unwin (Australian) Liar cover

Apart from the cover just not being to my personal taste, as soon as I started reading the novel, I realized that the girl on the cover was absolutely not physically representative of the main character/narrator, Micah. Micah has very short, curly hair and is of mixed race–half-black, half-white. Moreover, her identity is so…fluid, so difficult to nail down, that a photograph isn’t of much use to anyone. Justine has an idea of what Micah looks like to her, which she mentions in a very thorough, honest post about her misgivings regarding the book’s cover and her opinions on the issues it raises–particularly white-washing on YA book covers.

On the one hand, I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the photograph, because I never took it to represent Micah specifically (since it is completely obvious from her description that it cannot possibly be) but rather the act of lying, idea of the liar in general. On the other, I get Justine’s frustrations, and the confusion of readers who look at the cover, then listen to Micah, and get stymied by an unintentional layer of unreliability in a book already narrated by a wildly unreliable source. I’m sort of baffled by the way Bloomsbury disregarded the physical disparity between the girl on the cover and the girl in the book. Didn’t they think people would notice, or say something, or care?

I think it’s sort of ridiculous to have a photographic cover if the publisher isn’t going to at least approximate the look of the narrator/main character, because that’s what a reader is going to reasonably expect. And, as public opinion has proven in this case, a photographic cover was unnecessary–everybody loves the Austrialian version, which is graphic and completely intriguing.

I’m not saying that photographic covers are all bad (although I do think that conventional wisdom about books with teens on the cover selling better is specious, since you hear the same thing about iconic covers–I think bestsellers are made of a lot of things, the cover being only one aspect of that, and then the covers themselves have many different qualities that make them successes and it cannot be boiled down to one blanket statement like “photographic covers sell better” because that is just a straight up logical fallacy)–after all, the cover of my book is photographic and I love it, and it has been a huge hit with everyone I’ve spoken to. I’m just saying that they should be used responsibly. Maybe readers shouldn’t assume the person depicted on the cover is the narrator/main character/even author sometimes, but they often do, and it is what people do, not what they should do, that should be taken into account when attempting to please them. (This also goes for what they like, not should like, which are obviously two different things as well.)

Naturally, John Green weighed in on this, and as always he’s right. “[T]he job of a cover,” he writes, “is not to get the book to the broadest audience but instead to get the book to its best audience…The pretty girl cover will sell more at point of sale, but will it sell to the people who will like the book and recommend it to their friends? That should be the first question about a cover.” I really wish he wouldn’t go about pronouncing publishing dead/dying, though. Who is that helping?

As for the idea that photographic covers with people of color don’t sell…I’m not even going to dignify that with some sort of lengthy long-winded response. You guys! That’s simply ridiculous, not just because I highly doubt that there are any actual facts or statistics to back up such a claim, but also because it smacks of pre hoc racism, which I cannot abide.

If you were wondering, the model on the cover of All Unquiet Things is physically approximate to how I imagine Carly, but again, I see it more as representative of an idea that the book delivers on (dead girl, mystery) than a photograph of her.