November 30, 2009

Turning Pages - Don't Judge A Book, Part II

You already know how little control most authors have over the covers of their books, so you would think this would steer you to err on the side of mercy. But does it? No, it does not. You are still just as bad as I am. This is why I love you.

Enjoy with me, my opinionated amble through The Covers of Infamy.

The Demon's Lexicon by Irish debut writer Sarah Rees Brennan is a edge-of-your-seat, nervy little debut novel. Nick Ryves does the heavy lifting in his household -- fixing the sink, wielding a sword, protecting his brother from demons -- it's his thing. Since he's the strong, big, dangerous one, the one who isn't good with expressing himself or words, it's okay that he does all the dirty work and gets all the girls, and Alan gets all the brains and persuasive speech -- and does the cooking. Nick's big brother, Alan, is too good, too kind, and would give any old stupid person the shirt off his back, and the talisman that protects against demons from around his neck. He protects their mother, whom Nick could care less about, and keeps the family together through sheer force of will. It's Alan's thing, and no matter how much he scowls or postures or roars, he can't intimidate his big brother the way he can everyone else.


Now two stupid classmates of Nick's have crashed into their lives -- at a really bad time -- with problems of their own. Jamie's managed to get himself demon-marked, which means that he's a demon's gateway into the world. It's a death sentence: Nick can't believe Alan's trying to help them anyway. When he gets demon-marked in the process himself, Nick is furious -- beyond furious. What makes other people so important to his brother? Why does Alan do the things he does? Nick does a little digging -- and what he finds out blows his mind.

And changes everything.

I kept reading along thinking, "Okay, I'm going to put this down." And I did. When I was done. A thorough-going black-eyed beastie for the main character, and I liked him. Yes. I did.

But, why did he have to look like some kind of hottie heartthrob? I mean, seriously? Just this once, it might have been REALLY NICE for Nick to look... mad, bad, and dangerous to know. No, seriously dangerous. Like, someone you'd cross the street for, not Bad Boy Heartthrob With Petulant Lips. Yikes.

The head beneath the curtain pretty much says it all.
Actually, wait -- it doesn't say anything.
The cover of Bad Girls Don't Die, by Katie Alender tells us nothing about the main character, Alexis, whose hobby and escape from her parent's dysfunctional marriage is photography, and whose pictures occasionally show balls of light in them that no one else notices. Nor does it tell us anything about her little sister, Kasey, who used to be halfway normal, and who after the divorce became clingy and whiny, and started collecting... dolls.

It also tells us nothing about the drawers opening and closing in the house, the changing color of Kasey's eyes, and the strangely archaic speech patterns she's picking up.


From the cover, could you even tell this was a ghost story? I couldn't. Fortunately, I read it, and am here to report:

This is a ghost story.
This is a sister story, a friendship story, a story about not making assumptions about people based on their clique in high school, and most of all a story about surviving the things that go down in a family. If you like creepy haunted dollhouse novels, this one is for you.

The first scenes of Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund, takes place in a spaceship, where a starving refugee girl is looking at her father's bloodstains, realizing her emergency beacon and call for help has been answered. Next, we discover who she is, and how she was saved. Instantly, the reader is drawn in to her plight, and understands her terrified silence, her preemptive defensive prickliness, her determination to survive, her fear of failure. The next few chapters introduces us to her reckless, wealthy classmate-to-be, Dane Madousin, and we understand instinctively that they're going to be at war with each other, just by virtue of who they are. In just a few broad strokes, Osterlund has created this intriguing world -- and yet, as I read through the first pages of this book, I had to keep stopping to look at the cover.

I kept trying to figure out who was depicted on the cover. At one point in the novel, Aerin Renning, the refugee girl, and Dane, the rebellious-wealthy-diametrically-opposite-antagonist-romantic-foil-classmate end up socializing together. She wears a red velvet dress that is left out for her, she thinks, by the gracious host of the dinner. This dress is a Big Deal - it is a catalyst that swiftly brings together another series of events that are the highlight of the book.

And yet... the dress on the cover is black... and they look like they're angsting out at her 8th grade dance. I don't know -- I grew up with Star Trek. I want the body suits and the super-synthetic fibers. I want space wear. I want The Future. Somehow, the couple on the cover just doesn't cut it. This is a neat book - a quick read, a bit of glossing over of actual technology, but for those who like their sci-fi light with a bit of drama and romance, this will be a book to enjoy. Unfortunately, the cover doesn't say "science fiction" to me. It says something very generic and even generically romantic, which is kind of a shame.

Still, great books, plagued by mediocre or downright weird covers, are everywhere. The trick for me is not to read jacket flap copy -- editors write that most of the time, and you're not paying to read what they wrote, are you? -- but to sample the first chapter of a book. Writers are told that we have three paragraphs in which to hook a reader -- I'd say, give it a whole three pages, if you've got the time. You might find yourself surprised. And lucky to have in hand a great story.

You can buy The Demon's Lexicon, as well as Bad Girls Don't Die, and Academy 7, all 2009 Cybils YA SFF Nominated Books, from an independent bookstore near you!


Katie Alender said...

What a fun analysis! I like to think that the girl behind the cover is doing what Kasey would do if she had time to sit around instead of going around being evil. ;-)

What I loved about it most was the mood, though. It definitely captured (to me!) the mood of a ghost story. I was actually so amazed that my designer came up with an image that "felt" so right to me... details notwithstanding!

Thanks so much for featuring BGDD, and I love your snippet summary, too!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great reviews - as always! :)
I love the tie-in to the covers - great idea.

tanita✿davis said...

Katie: Thanks for stopping by! Bad Girl is tightly written and intensely spooky -- the head behind the curtain is equally unnerving, even if it doesn't preview the story. :)

Shannon: ...thank you for being entertained by the strange way my mind works!

Anonymous said...

And I'm SOLD on the creepy dollhouse mystery.

Ethel Rohan said...

Very nice analysis, as always. Christ, those lips on Nick -- scary!

I don't know, I thought that cover on "Bad Girls Don't Die" was pretty darn creepy. And I couldn't agree more, that last cover just seems SOOOOOOO wrong.

With all three covers though, it's clear marketing and promotion still pins its soul on "sex sells" -- or is it just my twisted mind that seed even the "Bad Girls Don't Die" cover is quite phallic and invasive???????

Sarah Rees Brennan said...

Thanks for the lovely review! And hey, Nick *is* hot - he's just also, as you put it so well, a black-eyed beastie. ;)

tanita✿davis said...

Ethel: It's SO not just you. It bugs me, because young adults want to be different from each other, but this All Covers Should Feature The Same Attractive People thing sort of feeds and perpetuates the Pod People thing - they look so much alike!!

Sarah:Okay. Yes. YES! Nick's a hottie - I am all over that!! But somehow, the model just does not look scary... no beastie there. I needs some beastie! ;)

Sarah Stevenson said...

Yay, more authors stopping by!! You're SO right, T, about the petulant lips. The Devil's Lexicon and Academy 7 both sound like a lot of fun, though. Bad Girls Don't Die sounds really suspenseful (and I have to say the cover, though not ghostly, IS pretty creepy)--and it sounds like I might not want to read it before bed...

Charlotte said...

I loathe those lips. Always have, always will. (But I love the book!)

The thing that vexes me most about the Academy 7 cover is that there is Nothing (as far as I can recall) that makes it clear this is happening on another planet.