Posts Tagged ‘Pearl Cleage’

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.

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At the risk of destroying the pristine (ha!) image you have of me, I’m going to make a confession: I have a potty mouth. Before you think too poorly of me, though, I do want to say that I generally keep my foul language to a minimum around other people (and try to eliminate it entirely around children, people who might find it offensive, and during inappropriate moments). So I’m not ALL bad. (Unless I’m alone. Then I could make a sailor blush.)

Given my own bad habit, I’m pretty liberal-minded when it comes to other people swearing. The only time it really bothers me is when it’s excessive (at which point I feel like handing the perpetrator a thesaurus) or inappropriate (like, say, dropping the F-bomb at top volume in the library). I’m a little less liberal when it comes to crude or vulgar language, but I think that’s because I feel there are fewer appropriate moments to discuss various topics. (How’s that for vague?) So when I read Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (at the recommendation of a coworker) and encountered enough cussin’ to sink a ship, I wasn’t too bothered . . . for the first twenty pages. Then it started to get old. And ridiculous.

I followed Nick & Norah up with What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day . . . by Pearl Cleage (recommended by several bloggers, including Amy and nomadreader). I noticed almost immediately that the language in What Looks Like Crazy didn’t bother me like it had in Nick & Norah. It didn’t take long for me to puzzle out why. While both novels are told in the first person (Nick & Norah is told by the title characters in alternating chapters), Ava’s voice in What Looks Like Crazy sounds more authentic. Her swearing rolls off her tongue as naturally as everything else she says and thinks. She doesn’t hold back, but it also doesn’t sound like she’s doing it just to get a reaction out of the reader, either.

The swearing, etc. in Nick & Norah, on the other hand, feels completely over the top. It could be argued that the excessive foul language makes Nick and Norah’s voices as realistic as Ava’s. After all, doesn’t the stereotypical teenager delight in using as much inappropriate language as possible just because they can? Isn’t it all about getting a reaction? And aren’t teenagers just struggling to find their own voice? Isn’t experimentation the best way to achieve that?

I want to give Cohn and Levithan the benefit of the doubt and believe that it was deliberately done: they gave their characters hyperbolic potty mouths because that’s what Real Teenagers sound like. I’m not entirely convinced, however.

Has anyone else read these two books? What did you think?

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