I just finished reading The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin. This is a damn fine book, a creep-up-on-you book. It has a devil-in-the-noonday-sun quality that many have compared to Roald Dahl. Me, I didn't see the Dahl in it so much - there's little to laugh at, for one thing - and I'd compare it more to creepy-banal British village horror. Love that stuff.
The main character in this book carries a heavy emotional burden, and the book, in addition to being a great, suspenseful fairy tale retelling, goes about hip-deep into the braided stream of villainy and its causes. There's a lot of Mayor Mills in Splendid Academy's Principal Trapp.
But look at that cover. Spunky blonde and tubby sidekick - looming, slightly comic haunted-house-looking building in the background? All that alliteration in the title? Does this cover make you expect emotional redemption as a theme?
It didn't for me anyway. I assumed, judging from the cover - and don't say don't do it, we all do it - that this was a book for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. I would have handed it to any kid who goes for the new Gothic Humor genre that we're seeing so much of. And don't get me wrong, some of those kids will like it - but it is not Gothic Humor. It's not terribly funny, and it goes very dark. It's a bit reminiscent of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, actually.
Weirdly, this is only one of many books I have read recently (and I have read about a dozen books in the past four days) (don't ask) (influenza B) (I don't recommend it) with a cover that is more than a little bit misleading.
Pick up Who Done It?, the new all-star humor-mystery anthology edited by Jon Scieszka. PICK IT UP. I'M WAITING.
While I'm waiting I'll just enjoy another little bit of it. Hee hee hee. Jordan Sonnenblick, I used to work at the Whitney and you are right on about the "diamond-encrusted dotards clogging the sidewalks" of the Upper East Side.
Joy Preble. Seriously overindulging in the noir metaphors, which is the only way to go with noir. "Truth is a squirmy bastard with a tendency to get stuck in life's drain like a clump of soapy hair." GIRL.
Scieszka has collected alibis from something like a hundred and eleventy-six practitioners of the kidlittic art, all of whom had a reason to murder one Herman Mildew, an editor as grotesque in appearance and habits as he was draconian in his use of a red pen. So there's some very fun, campy showing off here, although guys, keep your day jobs - none of these alibis are terribly convincing. Except maybe Mo Willems, who claims he was off killing someone else at the time, and everyone knows Mo is just a stone killer supernice fella who wouldn't harm a fly.
And Oh I can't resist one more. Taking the opposite tack, the shy and awkward Peter Brown (not actually), upon discovering the hated man's body in the bathroom at a party, takes the stage and buys himself the friendship and admiration of the entire publishing community by announcing, "I'd just like to apologize to anyone I may have offended tonight. I don't get out much. But I think you'll forgive me when you hear this fantastic news. I KILLED HERMAN MILDEW!"
Now there's a fantasy scenario if I ever heard one.
But oh Soho Press what is up with this cover. Honestly, looking at this cover, I thought it was written for the same audience as, maybe, All The Wrong Questions. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until page 17, where Mildew demands, "(Jennifer) Belle, sit on my face and I'll guess your weight" that I did the Keanu head-shake and checked the spine label. I was sure I'd pulled it off the kids' shelf - but it's teen.
Noooothing wrong with juicy vulgar sexist characters in the teen section, especially if they get murdered. I just want to ask Soho Press - "Really? You hear 'Teen' and you reach for robin's-egg-blue and tomato-red? With doodles? Because most of us see those colors and those colors say to us, ' Ten years old. Maayyybe twelve.'"
It is a real shame. Okay I know there are teens who would be excited about this book no matter what, simply because Libba Bray and John Green and Ned Vizzini are involved, but the majority of the kids where I work are not those kids. It takes work to hand-sell something new to most of the kids at my library, and while I am a pretty good hand-seller... I mean, help a girl out. A book that looks like a cereal box is not a book that looks like it has juicy vulgar sexist characters and a hundred and flibberty-seven potential killers in it.
But the cover of Who Done It? looks positively like The Morganville Biker Boinker Murder Diaries compared to this one:
This is Cameron and the Girls. It's clearly about a boy who is forced to do a team project with two girls in his fourth grade class, possibly because he busted out some rude and age-inappropriate comment like "Sit on my face and I'll guess your weight," and though the girls at first give him his well-earned comeuppance, he Learns To Be A Better Friend because of the experience.
Except no. That's not what Cameron and the Girls is about. Here's the book description, because you wouldn't believe me otherwise.
Fourteen-year-old Cameron Galloway of Lexington, Washington, understands that he has schizophreniform disorder and needs to take pills to quiet the voices in his head. But he likes the voices, especially the gentle, encouraging voice of The Girl. Conflicted, he turns to his friend Nina Savage, who is clinically depressed and can relate to his horror of the numbing effects of medication. They make a pact to ditch the pills. At first they feel triumphant, but soon Cameron’s untreated mind goes haywire—to disastrous effect.
When my friend Genna and I saw this book at ALA Midwinter and then heard what it was about, we both simultaneously turned to the publisher's rep and demanded, "This isn't the final cover, is it?"
I just can't - I mean - who exactly do they think is going to pick this book up?
I love book covers. I LOVE them. But you know that Blind Date With a Book thing that libraries are all doing? Covering books in wrapping paper and getting people to check them out sight unseen? BIZARRELY, we are having some success with that in our library in the teen section, and I swear to god I think it's because at least books wrapped in plain tissue paper don't have anything embarrassing on the cover.
Frustrating? Not as long as I don't run out of tissue paper and tape!