I try not to judge a book by its cover. (Okay, I mostly try not to judge a book by its cover.) I also try – mostly – not to hold it against a book when it has a lousy cover. But being human and all, I frequently fall prey to my own flaws. Such was the case with Babylon Sisters by Pearl Cleage.
When I finished reading Babylon Sisters a week ago I found myself royally peeved. Not because of the book itself, mind you. (While not as great as What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, it was still a good read.) No, what set me off was this:
I look at that cover and I think light, fluffy beach read. I think drinks with little umbrellas, wide-brim hats, maybe a hot guy or two, female bonding, and lots of pool shenanigans. And if it wasn’t for Pearl Cleage’s name on the cover, I would also think, Meh. No, thanks.
Of course Babylon Sisters was none of those things. Yeah, there was a hot guy and some female bonding and the pool showed up in the story a few times, but overall the book was nothing like the cover. There was never a scene with three women lounging by a pool. (I don’t even know who those three women are supposed to be.) And sure there were light moments, but the book took on weightier issues, too. Clearly the publishers are targeting a specific audience, but surely they could have come up with a cover that better represents the book itself.
As I fumed about this, I realized that the book I had finished just before Babylon Sisters had an annoying cover, too:
Who is that kid? The daughter in the book is in her twenties. And what on earth do bare feet and grass have to do with the story? Maybe I completely missed that scene – I’ve already returned the book to the library so I can’t doublecheck – but I doubt it. Like Babylon Sisters, I probably would have passed this book up if it wasn’t for the fact that I have prior positive experience with the author. (Sidenote: I liked Daughter’s Keeper, but I think Ayelet Waldman’s later novels are better. Go with Love and Other Impossible Pursuits if you’re wondering which of her books you should to read.)
So what did I do next? I read Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel, knowing full well the cover was going to piss me off.
I’m assuming the girl we see here is Callie, our protagonist. It’s actually a pretty big assumption to make seeing as how Callie is biracial and that girl is not. Callie’s mom is white and her father is black – which we learn in the second chapter – and her hair is described as “coarse” in the very first chapter. In the beginning of the book her skin is cream-colored due to a lifetime of covering up every time she goes outside. Why does Callie have to keep her skin light-colored? you ask. Oh, see that’s because the book takes place in Kansas in 1935. Apparently not much has changed in 77 years.
That cover is insulting. It’s insulting to Callie. It’s insulting to the author. It’s insulting to biracial readers because not only does it send the message that people with their racial makeup aren’t worthy of honest representation on book covers, it also sends the message that publishers don’t think their skin tone will sell. It’s insulting to non-biracial readers because it assumes they won’t read a book that features a character who has a different skin color than their own. And to that I say: BITE ME.
This is 2012, people. Enough with the whitewashing already.