Yesterday, I reviewed Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, which I read last Tuesday while serving as the judge of elections at my precinct’s polling place. This year, few seemed to know (or care) that it was Election Day in Pennsylvania, as we had just about 10% of our registered voters show up in my area.
Several of those who did show up asked me, “Hey, what are you reading?”
I’d look up from my e-reader and say, “Um, ah, For the Stars Come Darkness. No, I mean, From the Darkness Shows the Shadows. I don’t know. It’s a dystopian young adult retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.”
It’s a good book with a forgettable title, reminding me of another well-written apocalyptic young adult novel I read somewhat recently, Susan Dennard’s Something Something Deadly Something — I mean, Something Strange and Deadly (which is its actual title; I had to look it up). That title is so vague that you could slap it onto the cover of Peterfreund’s book and no one would know the difference.
My e-reader does me no favors when it comes to remembering titles, but at least it shields me from the images on the covers. I am so tired of seeing a young, pretty, thin, Caucasian girl staring straight at me or looking off into oblivion. I would rather imagine the protagonist, giving her the features that best match the words in the book as expanded by my imagination and as filtered through my own experiences.
The young woman on the cover of Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars did not match my own mental image of what Elliot North, the protagonist from a prestigious “Luddite” family, would look like. The cover, shown above, features a very pale young woman with light brown hair. Meanwhile the novel’s star has brown skin during the summer (the story takes place in summer) and black hair with “ruddy highlights” in the sun (see below). Plus, black hair would likely require chemical treatment to get that light (and to have highlights on the underside), and I doubt the “Luddites,” who shun technological advancements, would alter their appearances in such a way. 😉 At the very least, the protagonist should have darker skin when her hair is that light.
Why would authors and/or publishers choose such awful titles and covers? Wouldn’t shorter, more concrete titles be better? Shouldn’t titles and images be connected to the stories?
I’m certainly not the first reader/blogger to complain. The ramifications of a vague title might not be such a big deal, except to the author and the publisher (no one I recommended From the Darkness Something Something to on Election Day will be able to find it), but the impact of the cover images is worse: they send harmful messages about beauty, race, and gender and reinforce stereotypes. Why doesn’t Elliot North have a darker complexion?
I wonder what readers would say if authors and publishers put these titles and covers to a vote. I suppose some in the publishing industry would argue that we’re voting with our dollars, buying these books despite these forgettable titles and misleading, stereotypical covers. But maybe that’s happening only because of a lack of options, not because readers prefer it. To the extent the problem lies with us, the consumers, then the first step is talking about it and acknowledging the biases that affect our purchasing decisions.
UPDATE: In the comments, Molly linked to Diana Peterfreund’s defense for having a “whitewashed” version of Elliot North on the cover: http://www.dianapeterfreund.com/whitewashing-covers-part-eleventy-and-elliots-ethnicity/