Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pants on Fire

The latest kerfuffle in the kidlitosphere centers around Justine Larbalestier's novel, Liar. Or more accurately, around the cover. Have a gander at the cover to your right.

Now read the description of the main character that the author herself gives on her blog:
Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short.
Now look at the cover again. Erm . . . that's what you might call a fundamental disconnect.

There have been kerfuffles before, but this time even PW caught wind of it. They went asking around and got this shriek-worthy quote:
“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?”
In a word? YES. There are unreliable narrators and then there's just a big ol' mess where nothing hangs together. What makes unreliable narrators so tricky for readers is that there's truth and lies all mixed together. If you make it all lies, then, well, let Justine tell you:
One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.
She goes on to position this misstep in a long history of white-washing covers and ghettoizing black fiction because "black fiction doesn't sell," and just why that perception doesn't hang together.

If you want to explore this even deeper, check out Jen Robinson's roundup or this post at BoingBoing, more particularly the comments. There's one comment that examines and deconstructs all those prior like a debate captain at a kindergarten roundup.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That one epic-length comment? I Ironically, it's by an editor at Tor Fantasy who made and sanctioned several incredibly racist and offensive comments during the blogosphere's spring major "Racism in Sci-Fi/Fantasy" imbroglio, RaceFail '09. I honestly think she and her husband need to learn Racism 101 before they start lecturing other people, although I'm sure some of the points on the BoingBoing post are valid.