Sunday, January 17, 2010

An Open Letter to Bloomsbury Kids USA. Other Publishing Houses Take Note

To Whom it May Concern,

Hello. My name is Ari and here at my blog I review YA books about people of color. Right when I was starting up my blog, controversy over your US Liar cover broke out. Allow me to jog your memory, since you've made the exact same mistake. Liar is about Micah a "nappy-headed", tomboy, African American girl. Your original cover had a white girl on it. After many bloggers protested, including the author herself you changed the US cover to the image of an African American girl, she even looks bi-racial, like Micah. Now I don't want this to be a history lesson, but I ask you, why have you made the exact same mistake? I'm talking about Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. The main character, Nimira is described as "dark-skinned." The model on the book is definitely not dark-skinned. Do publishers even read the book when they make the cover? Here are some quotes to help you out. I'll help you out, on page 96, Nimira says "exposing my brown skin." (thanks Charlotte!) Hmmm, the model pn the cover does not have brown skin. And if you used a particularly light skinned model, well that still doesn't help since she doesn't look like a person of color and if the book describes her as dark skinned than use a dark skinned model (and I know they exist!)

Please note that I do not in any way blame the author. I've read her comments on the subject and I've seen her book trailer (perhaps you should watch it), she clearly states and shows that Nimira is dark-skinned (also look at her pictures of her characters). This is your fault, not Ms. Dolamore's. Through blogging, especially after the Liar issue, I've learned that the author has no say in his or her cover. I think that is so wrong and should be corrected. Perhaps then you (and other publishing houses) wouldn't continuously anger people and create covers that look nothing like how the authors envisioned. I also know that the the cover for Magic Under Glass was created before the Liar controversy. But that's no excuse. What would posses you to think you could get away with this? Do you really think your teen readers are that stupid and shallow that we will not read books with people of color on the cover? Newsflash: It's the 21st century, we have an African American president and as long as the book is good, no one cares about what the main character looks like! Furthermore, I think the cover of Magic Under Glass is gorgeous. I love the glass, the dress/corset and how the cover screams "historical fantasy." It would have been even better with a dark-skinned model. If you're not going to consult the author about the cover, at least read the book yourself so you don't look like fools when you make a cover that doesn't fit the book! Did you really think that since the cover of Magic Under Glass was finished before Liar, that you could get away with saying nothing? You should have AT LEAST recognized your mistake, apologized and promised to make the paperback version have a person of color on the cover (since it is very expensive to publish books and changing the cover even more so). Obviously, you thought we teen bloggers would simply not notice or even care. Well guess what, we do. Check out the comments of this post, I'm compiling a list of all the reactions out there on the blogopshere. This is not a one time issue and you will not be let off the hook.
ETA (really I just want to clarify): I do not think a boycott of Magic Under Glass is the best way to go as the author has worked really hard on her book and she wrote about a person of color and we should be grateful for that especially since the book has gotten good reviews. In fact, I'll probably review it (so at least this issue promoted some good discussion and hopefully change as well as introducing me to a new book I may have otherwise missed). We should keep blogging, emailing, writing about this issue.

I'm sure you can't imagine what it's like to wander through the teen section of a bookstore and only see one or two books with people of color on them. Do you know how much that hurts? Are we so worthless that the few books that do feature people of color don't have covers with people of color? It's upsetting, it makes me angry and it makes me sad. Can you imagine growing up as a little girl and wanting to be white because not only do you not see people who look like you on TV, you don't see them in your favorite books either. You get discouraged and you want to be beautiful and be like the characters in the books you read and you start to believe that you can't be that certain character because you don't look like them. I love the books I grew up with, but none of them featured people of color. I found those later, when I was older and I started looking for them. Do you know how sad I feel when my middle school age sister tells me she would rather read a book about a white teen than a person of color because "we aren't as pretty or interesting." She doesn't know the few books that do exist out there about people of color because publishing houses like yourself, don't put people of color on the covers. And my little brother doesn't even like to read, he wants to read about cool people who look like him, but he doesn't see those books in bookstores and now he rarely reads. He reads books where skin color isn't really mentioned at all (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid which is a funny book). I want my siblings and all other children of color to want to read books about people of color without feeling like they don't exist, that we aren't cool or interesting. If I can read a book about a white teen than why can't a white teenager read a book about a Black/Latino/Asian/Native American teen? We all go through the same experiences, we all face discrimination of some sort whether it be based on gender, race or sexual orientation. Sure, in realistic fiction teens of color are going to face racism, but that's realistic and it's something white teens should know. They need to recognize that racism isn't dead, but that skin color should not matter. We are all the same underneath. We also need more historical fiction that tells the full story of America, not just the white history of America and a little slavery and civil rights (for some suggestions read my post about the lack of people of color in historical fiction)And in sci fi/fantasy books, what does race matter? A Cherokee witch is just as cool as a white witch, a Latina vampire hunter can kick just as much butt as a white vampire hunter, etc. Their experiences are the same, there's no racial prejudice in fantasy worlds (there are some exceptions).

Bloomsbury, you've brought this upon yourself. As they say "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Well the joke's on me for believing that publishing houses actually cared about putting people of color on covers, that publishing houses would actually want diverse stories. And to think, before I started blogging, I assumed it was the author's fault. That they weren't writing the stories about people of color, that they could control their covers. now I know, the stories are being written, just not published and the author has no control over the cover. I'm considering becoming a CEO of a publishing house and being committed to having books about people of color as well as letting my authors help pick their covers.

I hope the other publishing houses take note, because they will be called out. I'm not just picking on you, Bloomsbury. Your problem is, you've done the same thing twice. I don't want to hurt the author, I really respect her and the book sounds good, but I can not (will not) buy a book that is supposed to be about a dark-skinned girl, when the cover features a White model. I hope you rectify this as soon as possible.

Sincerely,
Ari Reading in Color
PS I'm including the images that have caused so much controversy and discussion since you seem to suffer from short term memory loss. I thank you for changing Liar, let's do the same for Magic Under Glass.

63 comments:

  1. I love your letter, Ari. I'm going to have to quote you.

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  2. Awesome letter. I really love these posts.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your letter with us. It rocks.

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  4. Great letter. This is just ridiculous.

    I've got something for you over at my blog:

    http://qtbookworm.blogspot.com/2010/01/who-loves-you-baby-award.html

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  5. You just made me cry, Ari. Beautiful powerful post.

    Justine Larbalestier

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  6. Quoting you as well. Terrific letter, especially from the opinion of a reader who also happens to be a teenager.

    Really great, Ari. I'm posting on that issue Tuesday.

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  7. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Ari. I applaud your brave work on this issue. And I would LOVE to see you head a publishing house!!! Go, Ari, go!!!

    Tarie

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  8. I really hope not just Bloomsbury, but the art departments at other publishing houses act on your riveting, heartfelt post. I'm so sorry this happened yet again. At the very least, Bloomsbury should say they've taken steps to make certain this doesn't happen anymore. I started my site as a webcomic, but I have to link to your post and mention this someway (and I need to stop being silent on these matters in the blog portion) Your courage is amazing!

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  9. The attention you're bringing this, as well as the controversy surrounding Liar has made me think again, how few people of color I saw in the media (including books) as I grew up. I'm Mexican and think it's a shame those influences were not there for me, nor do I think, are they there nearly as much as needed now.

    Thank you for putting this into words--I hope your message reaches not only Bloomsbury, but all publishing houses.

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  10. I liked the UK cover and wish the US had gone with something like that. The photograph covers are just not good anyway, and not helping any of their books.

    My hope is that somebody at Bloomsbury will actually respond to the issue this time and not blow it off like they did with Liar. (Remember - that supposedly was a cover designed around the protagonist's lies.) We keep plodding along on this issue and we'll get through. I just know it.

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  11. Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for such an impassioned post. I will write my own and add to the noise. We need to make a lot of it. This is a big deal.

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  12. I wanted to come back and let you know I've not only tweeted your post, but I've put up my own in my blog because this is a very important issue!

    http://jawasreadtoo.blogspot.com/2010/01/people-of-color-in-fiction.html

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  13. I support this letter whole heartedly. The only way we will change these practices is to stand up and say that they are unacceptable. It is about time publishers started listening to their readers' voices.

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  14. Oh my God. How could they even THINK those covers in any way represent the books? That is so frustrating! Thanks so much for bringing this to light...

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  15. Hi Ari,

    It's me again. I'm a member of a great community of YA writers, agents and others in the publishing industry. The site, started by Georgia McBride is called YALITCHAT. I have posted this in their forum, in order to spread the word:

    Hello YALITCHAt members. I'd like to introduce you to Ari. She's a teen who writes a blog called Reading in Color. Ari happened to be reading a wonderful YA novel called Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (I plan to pick up the book, because of Ari's endorsement).

    While Ari enjoyed the book, you can imagine her dismay when she noticed the cover didn't remotely look like the main protagonist. Here is Ari's blog link. I think she can explain her hurt better than I can paraphrase it - http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/

    We are the writers, but sometimes things are out of our control. But perhaps by either mentioning this on your site or commenting on Ari's blog, the publisher may hear her. Thanks in advance!

    ***
    In addition, I'm going to incorporate this issue into my webcomic story line. Stay strong, because together we all can change this!

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  16. Jessica let us know about your post over at #YAlitchat. Thanks for your passion! While it is true that the art department does not read the books they make covers for (not required to), there is no excuse when getting something this important wrong. I applaud your passion and hope you'll continue to kick us grown ppl in the butt when we need it.

    Cheers-
    Georgia McBride
    http://yalitchat.ning.com

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  17. Oy. Seriously?! I linked to this great, great post on the FB page for White Readers Meet Black Authors.

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  18. Well said little sister. So proud of you. I have refrenced you on my blog. Your voice is being heard.

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  19. You are so awesome, Ari. Wonderfully said.

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  20. Hi Ari,

    I've corrected the post, thanks for letting me know. It now reads:

    Hello YALITCHAt members. I'd like to introduce you to a book blogger named Ari. She's a teen who writes a blog called Reading in Color. Ari happened to hear about a wonderful YA novel called Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (I plan to pick up the book, because of Ari's blogpost).

    You can imagine her dismay when she became aware that the cover didn't remotely look like the main protagonist. Here is Ari's blog link. I think she can explain her hurt better than I can paraphrase it - http://blackteensread2.blogspot.com/


    We are the writers, but sometimes things (in publishing) are out of our control. But perhaps by either mentioning this on your site or commenting on Ari's blog, the publisher may hear her. Thanks in advance!

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  21. I tried playing nice and all it got me was the same status quo. Do see current TIC post at Color Online and Celebrating MLK with A Protest at Black-Eyed Susan's.

    I'm more than angry. I'm taking action.

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  22. Oh my, I did not know this. Thanks for your passionate letter and thanks for sharing. This should be addressed.

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  23. Hi, I just wanted to thank you for bringing this issue to everyone's attention.I'm especially dismayed because the book looks good and the cover just ruins it.

    Also, and I really,really hope you don't mind, but I made the ladies over @ www.jezebel.com aware of this issue and linked your letter along with a few other author's response's and they've posted it on their site. The more people who know about this the better.

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  24. Oooh, great letter. They're going to hear you over a Bloomsbury; what they should do is hire you.

    I'm not a huge fan of photorealistic covers in the first place, feeling the same way about them as some people do about extensive author's notes. Let the readers draw their own mental images of the characters rather than being steered by whatever models the art department chooses. In the case of Liar, I though the abstract cover of the Australian edition was the most appropriate presentation for that book. In addition, too many of the covers use the same stock images, so that the covers start to look identical, which leads me to think what's inside the book is equally cookie-cutter.

    I'd like to see publishers choose cover images that are appropriate to each book rather than what everyone else is doing and what they think will sell. That means if the book depicts a Black protagonist, put a Black model on the cover if you choose to use a photorealistic cover. And one principle should rule over all when designing a cover: Do Not Mislead. For you will pay when the reader gets into the book and finds out it's not what it purports to be.

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  25. Great work, as always, Ari. I'm so glad to see that this story is getting wider notice.

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  26. Thanks for writing this...I'll go back to my place now and put in a link!

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  27. Ari, this is a beautiful letter. I hope that the publisher responds. I've heard the 'reasoning' that White/whitewashed covers sell better; that reads to me as an endorsement of a racist attitude that must be challenged. This goes beyond a single book cover, and I hope that posts like this remind all of us to pay attention, and make our own noise. (And I'm so glad to hear that in writing this, you were inspired by a book!)

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  28. Marvelous, Ari. Let's get this cover changed, and hopefully, let's make enough noise that publishers won't keep whitewashing.

    Thank you for writing from your heart. You make a strong and eloquent case.

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  29. Sorry to come to the party so late! I've been offline for a few days, and just read this. Ari, you're amazing, girl. Keep on, little sister. We're all right here next to you (and behind you) every step of the way. I, too, will link to your post on my blog.

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  30. Ari, this is fantastic and eye-opening. I loved reading your post and am shocked that such a thing does occur, though it should be expected, I suppose. While I, too, love the cover shown for Magic Under Glass, it is misleading and deserves to show a more accurate representaion of what the writer intended. It reminds me of another book I read where the cover did not portray the writing, and that was for the story 'Princess Ben'. While this story did not have anything to do with race, it did have everything to do with not being picture-perfect thin. But lo, the cover model was exactly the opposite of what the author tried to portray.

    It is a sad, sad thing when publishers, television, and hollywood insist on feeding us their poisoned ideas of 'beautiful' when those ideas do not include people of color or any girl above a size 2.

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  31. Great blog, Ari, and a great post. I'll be linking to you.

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  32. What a beautifully written post. Thanks so much.

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  33. Did you actually send the letter to them? I really hope all these voices will help them see that accurate representation is not only fair, it is also desired. Great post Ari.

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  34. Thanks for posting your letter Ari. It means so much more since you are a teen reader. People need to understand that there are kids and teens of color who would love to see more of themselves reflected on covers and in stories.

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  35. Great post - as someone who is trying to get into the publishing industry, I see these issues and want some changes. Everyone deserves to be represented correctly. I just hope that everyone else who joins the industry does also.

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  36. I got the link for this from Maureen Johnson. I completely agree!

    May I link to this post on my blog?

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  37. Looking around at some of the other posts ingiting around the blogosphere, I do think I need to play the devil's advocate to a degree.

    I do not think boycotting all of Bloomsbury's titles, or even just Magic Under Glass is the best approach (I am glad you will not be among them). It will ultimately hurt a debut author far more than Bloomsbury's bottom line, and this is an author who has written a unique character for us. We would only end up shooting ourselves in the foot by doing so.

    Secondly, like it has been mentioned, this cover was designed and approved before even the first cover of Liar came out. It was exceedingly expensive to do a reshoot. I am glad they did. But Justine Larbalestier is an established author with a solid fanbase. There is no way they can know if this unknown book will sell out the extra expense it would take to do another reshoot. However, I wouldn't be suprised to see them do a darker skinned model for the paperback release. And Bloomsbury is not all bad. They are not whitewashing every POC book out there.

    Take for example Shannon Hale's paperback Book of a Thousand Days, which released with a full shot of an Asian cahracter. It was released Sep 2009. It very well could be they are hearing the message, and are starting to change. By all means, send them the letters, expressing the desires to see more accurate representation. But also, give them a chance to act on it. Considering the details of this particular release, it is too soon to judge. I hope you might put a post up about these points to help temper the flames before too many bridges are burned unnecessarily.

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  38. I just looked on this book's amazon page and there is not anything about this subject there. Maybe people who read the book should give it a review (with a fair rating for the book) and include these issues with the cover.

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  39. I came here from a link at smartbitchestrashybooks.com I have to say, bravo! Only by speaking out can we make a difference, I hope they will change the cover for the pbk version and I wish Ms Dolamore great success.

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  40. I'm going to follow Ari's lead, since she's given us a heartfelt plea and even the remedy, and also I believe by mobilizing many more "Ari's" - teens who read, who are, as we like to say, the future, the general public will be more likely to care.

    For this campaign to truly be successful allies are needed in whatever capacity, in order to impliment a lasting change. Many thanks to all, even those who just mention this on their blog. And I hope no backlash comes to the author who wrote the book.

    I'm sending Ari's post to out into the world.
    I pray the seed it plants will be one of change.

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  41. Dear Ari,

    I'm very happy I stumbled onto your blog. I'm a white teen who is trying to become an author. I've made the effort to not discriminate in my books by making poc side-characters - only one of my books featured a poc main character. After reading this letter, you've convinced me to start writing more colored main characters.

    If and when I get published, I plan on doing everything I can to keep the covers as they should be. What Bloomsbury did to Magic Under Glass is terrible.

    Thank you for opening my eyes to this problem.

    -Lizzy<3

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  42. Ari!!!! You're in SALON, girl! You are blowing folks away with your earnest, heartfelt letter to the idiots at Bloomsbury (and beyond)...I'm so proud of you!!!

    http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/feature/2010/01/19/cover_whitewashing/index.html

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  43. Wonderful letter which all publishers should read. And it's great to see you quoted and linked to from Salon.com. Hopefully this will bring more attention to this important issue.
    Laura Atkins

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  44. Great post. I think you've really opened the eyes of folks around the blogosphere. I was planning on buying this book, but I had no idea about Bloomsbury once again whitewashing the cover. Which is sad. One of the things I'd like to see is more people of color. It saddens me that publishers continue to ghettoize people of color.

    It's especially apropos that you wrote your post on MLK, Jr. Day. Bravo.

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  45. Amazing and articulate post. Thank you. It is a dilemma - not buying this well-reviewed book hurts the author more than the publisher but buying a book that misrepresents the main character isn't good either. I sure do hope Bloomsbury and publishers, in general, get the message.

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  46. Thank you for posting this, Ari. Wonderful letter that will hopefully echo throughout the net. I signed the petition. I would LOVE to see more books with POC on the cover. In fact, those are the ones that catch my attention, especially in the YA genre. I hope Bloomsbury wakes up and realizes the diversity of its readers.

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  47. Well done. So well done. You give me hope for the future.

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  48. I hope someone steps up with some sort of response.

    http://www.shadrastrickland.com/blog/?p=676

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  49. you have my back, and i have yours

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  50. A brilliant post, It's disgusting that young ethnic readers are made to feel that way

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  51. This just in:

    Bloomsbury changing the cover:

    "Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly."

    http://www.bloomsburykids.com/books/catalog/magic_under_glass_hc_306

    Ari, you're awesome! So are all who took the time to do something about this. Thank you, one and all!

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  52. Ari, I am a bookseller who doesn't read YA - others in my shop are the experts! - but am so glad your letter was brought to my attention so I can add to the praise for your insight, eloquence, and gracious approach. Clearly stating the result of such so-called "mistakes" while recognizing who is and is not responsible shows maturity and intelligence that will serve you forever. Discouraged that the future tense is still necessary, as we sang at Monday's parade, We Shall Overcome - with the courage and persistence of people like you!

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  53. They listened! They listened! *hee hee hee*

    Props for Jackie, Nimira & caring folks like you. Bloomsbury issued an apology and a new cover is coming soon!

    CONGRATS TO ALL!

    www.fabuloufrock.livejournal.com/345084.html

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  54. Rachel Eiland-HallJanuary 24, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    Heck yeah, and right on, Ma'am. Thank you for a well-written essay. I hope they listen to you.

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  56. The original cover for LIAR was a better cover, not because of the black girl vs. white girl aesthetics, but because of the irony and what the story was about.

    If I was the author, I would've been furious that they caved to the pressure and stuck me with such a direct, non-imaginative, and boring cover all in the name of political correctness.

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  57. @Jason-I'm sorry you don't see the bigger issue here which is the message a whitewashed cover conveys. The author has made it clear that Micah is African American and the cover is the exact same as the orignal, the only thing that changed is skin color so I'm presuming then that you mean to imply that an African American girl is non-imaginative? I'm glad you are not the author then.

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  58. Ari, did you notice the new cover is still white-washed? This is a shame they can be so brazen with their quest to maintain white supremacy in this day and age and people say next to nothing.

    Tim Aldred

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  59. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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I love to hear from you!! Thank you for sharing :) And don't be Anon, I try to always reply back and I like to know who I'm replying to ;)