Marina Budhos Guest Post

Feb 2, 2011
Today Marina Budhos, author of Tell Us We're Home, is here to talk about the making of her book cover. I always love to read book cover stories so I'm excited to have her here! If you haven't heard of Marina or her book here is the summary:
Jaya, Maria, and Lola are just like the other eighth-grade girls in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook, New Jersey. They want to go to the spring dance, they love spending time with their best friends after school, sharing frappÉs and complaining about the other kids. But there’s one big difference: all three are daughters of maids and nannies. And they go to school with the very same kids whose families their mothers work for. That difference grows even bigger—and more painful—when Jaya’s mother is accused of theft and Jaya’s small, fragile world collapses.
When tensions about immigrants start to erupt, fracturing this perfect, serene suburb, all three girls are tested, as outsiders—and as friends. Each of them must learn to find a place for themselves in a town that barely notices they exist.
Marina Budhos gives us a heartbreaking and eye-opening story of friendship, belonging, and finding the way home.
Please welcome Marina...

It’s funny.  The first cover that was designed for this book I hated.  It showed three girls, their heads together on the grass.  It was an image I felt I’d seen before and was a bit too ‘chic lit’ for me.  And the worst thing was, the model who had posed for Jaya wasn’t even the right ethnicity.  I objected and fortunately, the sales department decided it wasn’t right, either.

My editor said they wanted to go in a completely different direction, not realistic, but more graphic, something that would ‘pop.’  We bandied a few ideas around – I kept talking about them making use of an image of a house, since these girls are always in other people’s houses.  And then suddenly the designer came up with the idea of a key.  I loved that idea, and the way the surface is slightly ridged like a key.  I thought it was a good example of ‘suggestive’ art, not too literal, and it does jump on the shelf.  I think the key gets at so many of the themes of the book—the way in which the girls don’t quite have a ‘key’ to their symbolic house, their sense of home; they keys their mothers use for other people’s houses; perhaps, even, the key they use for their own homes, since they are on their own so much.

Perhaps my only hesitation is the choice of pink means that it’s marked as a girl’s book.  At one school where two classes read the book, the teacher had to persuade the boys to read it.  The boys told me sheepishly that they were at first embarrassed and then surprised by the novel’s contents—that it was actually something they could enjoy.

The paperback cover goes in a completely different direction. (The paperback comes out in May)  I really like that one too.  It also is very suggestive, and shows a girl’s bare leg peeking out of a sort of rug-blanket.  There’s something about the vulnerability of the ankle, the haphazardness of the leg, which makes you immediately intrigued.  I must admit, at first I wasn’t sure—I wanted something a little more literal, something that spelled out how these girls were daughters of maids and nannies.  But there is something arresting about the image, even if you can’t quite pin it down—a kind of unsteadiness that makes you want to open the book up. It also, in my mind, advertises a slightly older book, whereas the pink suggested a slightly younger middle grade book.  I think the novel actually stretches both ways.

Both images are really quite different.  The hardcover confronts you directly as almost bright poster art.  The paperback is subtle, mysterious.  In my prior book, Ask Me No Questions, it went completely the other way: the hardcover was quite enigmatic, arresting, while the paperback was very realistic.

Cover art is really a fascinating experience.  Readers often think that the authors have a lot of say—very often we don’t, unless we have one of these really aggressive contracts that gives us real say, or we have an unusual relationship with the design department.  They do always ask for ideas, but ultimately the designers go off, and find their own way into the material.  In the end, it’s always interesting to be stretched graphically, in a way you never would have thought for your book.


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