Leila has a post up announcing a cover contest that will hopefully result in some much needed attention to some truly great alt history/steampunkish titles for teens. Here's a bit of what she has to say (although really you must read the whole thing because Leila brings the awesome on, as usual):
Credit where credit is due: The contest was actually Josh's idea. If he doesn't like cover art, he generally won't pick up the book. (Seriously. I know he would dig The Explosionist, but IT LOOKS TOO GENERIC AND GIRLY, even though I've explained that the cover art doesn't even remotely reflect the story. Same goes for Flora Segunda, except in that case, it apparently looks TOO YOUNG AND NEW AGE-Y FLOATY FANTASY. (His words. Sigh.)) On the rare occasions that his desire for the book supersedes his stubbornness, he SPRAYPAINTS THE COVER BLACK. (I am so not exaggerating about this. I unearthed piles of them during my search the other day.)
A lot of times when we talk about covers it is for serious issues like racism. That is certainly not the case here - it is more a problem of covers that are outrageously oversold to girls to the utter exclusion of boys (who would love the books), or advertise the book as something other than what they are (Jenny Davidson's books are alternate history/thrillers but what you see from these covers if historic fiction all the way and Ysabeau Wilce's aren't fairy stories and yet from her covers, well...) or the covers are just...frankly, rather dull. That's my problem with D.M. Cornish's latest round which I think would do okay for adult audiences but look a bit too much like Charles Dickens to get a teen's blood flowing.
I mean seriously. Look at the evidence. Consider The Explosionist cover and now look at Lisa Klein's Cate of the Lost Colony. Do they look that different from the covers? Klein's book is described by the publisher as:
...[this] historical drama is an engrossing tale of adventure and forbidden loveâ€”kindled by one of the most famous mysteries in American history: the fate of the settlers at Roanoke, who disappeared without a trace forty years before the Pilgrims would set foot in Plymouth.
Okay, fair enough. But here's what Davidson's is about:
Someone sets off a bomb outside fifteen-year-old Sophie's boarding school, but no one can figure out who.
The Medium: Soothsayers and sÃ©ance leaders are regular guests at her great-aunt's house in Scotland, but only one delivers a terrifying prophecy, directed at Sophie herself.
The Murder: When the medium is found dead, Sophie and her friend Mikael know they must get to the bottom of these three mysteries in order to save themselvesâ€”even as the fate of all Europe hangs in the balance.
Set in a time of subversive politics, homegrown terrorism, and rapidly changing alliances, The Explosionistis an extraordinarily accomplished debut novel for teens that delivers a glimpse of the world as it might have beenâ€”had one moment in history been altered.
In Davidson's world Napoleon won at Waterloo and the whole map of Europe has been redrawn with different alliances, etc. There is a plot afoot (of course) and thus the terrorist bombing at Sophie's school and, things unravel from there while including all sorts of interesting bits about dynamite and spirit photography and mind control and...well, you get the picture. The cover for her follow-up Invisible Things is not any better. In fact, it's a bit more bizarre for although it is about Sophie's continued adventures it now sports a different cover model.
So, does that cover scream wild rush for your life across the north to a meeting with the elusive Alfred Nobel who holds the secret to the death of your parents? Or, as Charlotte described in her recent review, does it suggest:
As the threat of war grows, so does the mystery surrounding Sophie's parents, and the danger to Sophie and Mikael themselves. At the heart of the mystery is a strange woman named Elsa Blix, who seems to hold, from her command center on the island of Svalbard far to the north, the fate of both Sophie, and maybe all of Europe, in her cold hands....
Hmmm. I'm not thinking so. In fact the new cover, for all that it has a different photo, sells the same idea as the first: a historical novel about a young girl, period. There is no suggested action, no adventure, no science, no physics (!), no explosions or terror plots or threat of world domination by truly bad people. There is just a girl which if you are a fourteen-year old male reader in particular, is not going to make you pick up this book. At all.
I have some thoughts on Flora Segunda and the Foundling trilogy also (of course I do!) but I hope this has been enough to make you think about books and covers and in particular books that don't fit into the standard MG/YA genres that we have become accustomed to. (As in, not coming-of-age, not paranormal fantasy, not vampire kissing, etc.) And if you are interested in all of this, then do plan to join in the conversation the week of December 13th when we all discuss our favorite Alternate History and Steampunk* titles (for any age). I'll keep a Master Schedule of posts here so send me your links and we'll have a good time highlighting great books we love that might have gotten overlooked by the masses. (Not that stuff like that ever happens.... :) And don't forget to head over to Leila's and design your own cover that better depicts what these stories need and deserve.
[*Our definition of those is loose, as you can tell form the Wilce/Davidson/Cornish mash-up.]