Above is the cover of Justine Larbalestier's new novel, Liar, which features a black protagonist. You'll note that the girl on the cover is white, which has been done, in part because the publisher has had a lot of success with similar 'face' books, and in part because of the perception that black people do not sell.
Their perception: that publishers think books won’t sell as well with blacks on the front. “I kept wondering if the publisher thinks books only sell if they’ve got white people on the cover. It bothered me,” wrote Dianne Salerni, author of the upcoming novel We Hear the Dead, in an Amazon.com review.
Even Larbalestier is upset. “I love my publisher,” she said. “[But] I never wanted this cover. I made it clear I didn’t want a white girl’s face. Having this cover on the front is undermining the book that I wrote.”
And yet, some readers—and Liar’s editor—are defending the cover, noting that Micah, the unreliable narrator, could have fibbed about her own appearance. “The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar,” said Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers, who worked on Liar. “Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?”
Unlike Larbalestier’s light and upbeat How to Ditch Your Fairy, which came out last year, Liar is a psychological thriller, with a mentally unstable main character who may (or may not) have committed multiple murders. Bloomsbury is printing 100,000 copies.
The publisher believes that there’s a silver lining to the firestorm. “I do think it’s going to raise awareness of race in teen literature to new levels,” said Cecka. “Clearly, our striving for ambiguity with this cover, and for it to be interpreted as a ‘lie’ itself didn’t work for everyone. But again, if this jacket proves a catalyst for a bigger discussion about how the industry is dealing with its books on race, that’s a very large good to come of this current whirlwind.”
Well, isn't it interesting to see this cover being spun as a positive thing. A lot of good isn't going to come from this discussion, unless it is to force the publisher to change it. Otherwise, what is more likely to happen is that a lot of people won't buy Larbalestier's new novel because of the racism that has given birth to the white girl face staring at them.
Yes, I said racism.
Because racism has many forms, and this is one of them.