This week on Cover to Cover, I want to talk about one of my favourite 2014 releases and the fact that it only has two good covers. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is beautiful and unsettling, and lingers at the corner of your vision for a while after you’ve read it. You know that odd, bright shadow that sits in your vision after you accidentally stare at the sun? That’s what this book will do to you.
And yet I’ve only found two covers that really do it justice. How is that fair? (Luckily, one of them seems to grace the most popular edition, so that’s the one you’re likely to see – pictured left.)
The premise: Boy Novak escapes from her rat catcher father and into a quiet suburb, but she feels haunted – sometimes literally – by this choice. In this new life, she falls in love with local (brawny, handsome) widower Arturo, and is captivated by his doll-like, perfect daughter Snow. When Arturo and Boy have a daughter of their own, however, her dark skin reveals a secret Arturo’s family has tried to hide – the fact that they are light-skinned African-Americans in a time when racism runs in vicious and not-so-secret currents through their small town. This book is advertised as a retelling of Snow White set in 1950s Massachusetts, and it delivers without being cloyingly obvious about it. In fact, this version of the narrative brings a depth to the classic retelling; is Boy an evil step-mother? Is Snow as innocent and perfect as she seems? Does family overpower racism, or vice versa? How important are beginnings when it comes to figuring out conclusions?
The main cover – mint green, featuring snake and flowers, above – keeps things admirably simple. The illustrations are intriguing, the title (at first) confusing, and the combination presents the reader with just enough detail to ensnare them completely. I’m not afraid to admit it: this cover is absolutely why I picked the book up in the first place.
Its other covers, however, largely fall flat – pulling a little two heavily on the fairtale buzzword to set the theme, in my opinion:
Luckily, the designers at Also Design in Chicago put together some nifty covers, including this one, which is my other favourite cover for this book:
Simple, striking, and evoking the fairytale theme without making it overly twirly or cutesy.
I’m also a fan of one of Also’s other redesigns, although for me it looks far too much like the John Green Christmas special collection to really work.
Which cover is your favourite? I’d love to see your comments. Maybe you prefer the cutes-ier vibe? Maybe you think it could have been pushed further in the other direction and become even more unsettling? Feel free to link to any great cover art that I’ve missed!
Cover to Cover is a weekly project comparing and critiquing the various covers of popular novels, published every Wednesday. Find more posts in this series here.