YA Critics Feel Cheated by Liar Cover Girl

By Neal Comment

When YA fantasy author Justine Larbalestier gave her fans a first look at the American cover for Liar, back in April, she was understandably excited: “This cover was so well received by sales and marketing at Bloomsbury that for the first time in my career a cover for one of my books became the image used for the front of the catalogue,” she blogged. “Apparently all the big booksellers went crazy for it. My agent says it was a huge hit in Bologna. And at TLA many librarians and teenagers told me they adore this cover.”

liar-liar-covers.jpgThe love, however, is not universal. Earlier this week, an unnamed “outraged, nauseous, [and] flabbergasted” children’s book editor blogging at Editorial Anonymous took issue with the cover, noting that Liar is about a young girl who is “black, with very short hair, and is mistaken for a boy early on in the book by teachers and fellow students,” which is pretty much the exact opposite of the model who has wound up on the dust jacket. “I wish I could say I can’t imagine what they were thinking,” this anonymous editor writes, “but in fact I do have a guess. I just can’t imagine why they thought no one would notice.” (We’ve inset the original Australian cover of the novel for comparison.)

As Alicia, a YA librarian blogger, frames the question: “Did the publishers not want to put a black girl on the cover for fear of not selling enough books to their white customers? Or is the cover supposed to be what Micah really looks like, and her description in the book is just another of her lies?”

To address these complaints, Larbalestier has written a new blog post, revealing that she fought that cover every step of the way: “I never wanted a girl’s face on the cover,” she says. “Bloomsbury has had a lot of success with photos of girls on their covers and that’s what they wanted. Although not all of the early girl face covers were white, none showed girls who looked remotely like Micah. I strongly objected to all of them. I lost.”

“No one in Australia has written to ask me if Micah is really black,” she says of the earlier cover for the book. “No one in Australia has said that they will not be buying Liar because ‘my teens would find the cover insulting.’ Both responses are heart breaking.” But, she continues, she’s not alone in finding her fiction “white-washed” by her publisher:

“Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA—they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section—and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all.”

“Are the big publishing houses really only in the business of selling books to white people?” she asks. “That’s not a very sustainable model if true… I hope that the debate that’s arisen because of this cover will widen to encompass the whole industry. I hope it gets every publishing house thinking about how incredibly important representation is and that they are in a position to break down these assumptions.” Starting, perhaps, with a new cover for the paperback edition featuring “someone who looks like Micah on the front.”