It's an age-old adage we've all heard before - Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover. But honestly, how many people take this advice to heart? Like, none. Publishers put thousands of dollars into designing covers that tell readers what kind of story is contained within, so if you're a choosy reader - & who among us is not - you should probably take a moment to consider the target market for the book you hold in your hands. Does that handsome, shirtless man holding that bodice-adorned lady promise a mystery thriller? Does the author's name printed four times bigger than the title of the book promise a literary & deeply-moving narrative? Probably not, on both accounts. Those covers are supposed to be valuable to readers, giving them an indication of what they're in for.
But we all know, exceptions prove the rule. Some covers seemed designed deliberately to fool us & confuse us. So what kind of story are the publishers trying to sell us with these covers? Who knows what they were going for, but these are some great reads, regardless of what the covers are saying to the contrary.
Chime by Franny Billingsley. Talk about the mother of all bad book covers. Wow. Just wow. If you don't entirely agree with me about just how terrible this cover is, let me tell you that you can't tell from the picture that it's METALLIC & SHIMMERY. Yeah. Awful. This cover says: "Hi. I'm a [possibly?] historical fiction book about a hot girl. I'm filled with anachronisms, plot holes, & superfluous descriptions of people's outfits because why else would the model on me be wearing a choker that kind of looks like those fake tattoo necklaces from the future? Obviously that necklace is described somewhere in this book, obviously." NO. IT'S NOT. This book is magical realism & historical fiction about a young girl who holds herself responsible for her twin sister's brain damage & who is self-proclaimed evil. Her world is full of the unexplained & described in strange yet complex detail through her eyes. Chime is a National Book Award finalist (opes a new window), has received countless starred reviews for both the book & audiobook, & received a Boston Globe-Horn honor (opens a new window), so I'm not the only one who thinks it should receive more notice than the cover implies.
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. This cover says: "I'm an historical fiction, teen romance. There are fancy balls & parties every night in this book, & the characters spend a lot of time thinking about en vogue hairstyles." OK cards on the table, there is just the teensiest bit of romance, but not enough to merit the fancy lady on the cover. And yes, it's historical fiction written for teens. But can you tell it's about the French Revolution? It is. Can you tell that it's astoundingly historically accurate? It is. Can you tell that it's violent, frightening, moving, and a pretty darn good mystery? That it's magical, in a completely believable sort of way? It's all of these things!
Zahra's Paradise by Amir & Khalil. What exactly is this cover saying? It's not inherently terrible - in fact, the cover is a pane from within this graphic novel - but just the image alone makes me think it's about technology? Maybe? The tagline & suggestion blurbs give a much better glimpse into the story than the image, & after reading the book I think that someone much more familiar with Iranian culture than myself could be drawn in by the title. But overall, not a whole lot is suggesting this one is my genre; the reason I read it is because it is ranked as being one of the best comic books from 2011 (opens a new window). Zahra's Paradise picked up where Persepolis leaves off in humanizing just what exactly is happening on the other side of the world. It's so so sad, so so heartbreaking, & makes my own safe little life feel a little confusing. It's a book that I could safely suggest to someone who isn't a comic book or graphic novel reader because it's the kind of story that legitimizes the format to non-believers; books like this one don't come around everyday.
Skim by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki. This cover says: "...well, nothing". Another award-winner book cursed with weird & lame packaging. Once again, the cover here is a pane from this graphic novel, but could a more random pane have been chosen? Skim is a coming-of-age story about a young Asian girl growing up in Canada. It's bursting with the aches of youth, of perfectly normal, perfectly & painfully average youth. Who among us as a teen didn't feel like the world just didn't get us & we just didn't get the world? Who among us didn't really understand what was happening when we suddenly realized our friends are strangers & perfect strangers are suddenly our friends? I'm of the opinion that we're never really through Coming-of-Age, so if you're still figuring out just who the heck you are, let Skim - the most sincere & ordinary heroine I've perhaps ever seen in ink - join you in your quest.
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