And then I wasn't.
This is the description of the main character of Magic Under Glass from the review of the book by The Book Smugglers:
- Nimira is a performer, dancing and singing in search of fortune, after migrating from Tassim, in the far East... in Lorinar, she is nothing but a dark-skinned amusement, a novelty “trouser girl” who earns nothing but pennies and whose number comes after acrobats and trained dogs in the music hall she is employed at. ... Nim was a breath of fresh air. For starters, she is dark-skinned and from a different culture; she is strong without being kick-ass: she cries when she has to cry, she fights when she has to fight, she adapts when she has to adapt. She is resilient, she is practical – and she is proud! Proud of her heritage and past.
This is the U.S. hardback cover of Magic Under Glass, published by Bloomsbury USA:
That.... is not anyone who looks like Nimira to me.
You may recall that last fall, Justine Larbalestier's incredible book Liar was at the center of a storm of controversy over the fact that its publisher, Bloomsbury, had whitewashed the cover and used a white face to represent an African-American heroine. After the ARCs started coming out and people started to realize what had happened, enough of an outcry went up on the interwebs that Bloomsbury acted fast and changed the cover to feature a beautiful and far more accurate portrayal of the main character, Micah. (My rec for Liar is here.)
The publisher of Magic Under Glass? Guess who!
The cover of Magic Under Glass? It's been public since the Liar controversy. Bloomsbury was able to yank the original cover of Liar and change it 2 months before it went to press. They had over six months to do the same for Magic Under Glass.
But it was a debut novel whose author didn't have a foothold in the publishing world that would allow her to protest, as Larbalestier did. Also, the reviewing blogosphere generally doesn't review books before they're published. So without the author to spearhead a call to action, there has been none over the whitewashing of Magic Under Glass, and Bloomsbury? Well, obviously, they weren't concerned.
Until we come to the always awesome Book Smugglers, who with the new cover in hand, close their review with, "Nimira is supposed to be dark-skinned !!!! The book trailer captures that and is true to the book (check it out here) but the girl in the US covers is definitely white."
SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT FUCKING YEAR. THANKS A LOT, BLOOMSBURY, FOR RUINING THE ONLY DEBUT NOVEL OF 2010 THAT I REALLY WANTED TO READ. ENJOY SPENDING THE MONEY I GAVE YOU FOR IT, BECAUSE IT'S THE LAST TIME I EVER BUY ONE OF YOUR BOOKS, YOU RACIST ASSHOLE SHIT PUBLISHER. FOR GOD'S SAKE HOW DOES THIS CRAP KEEP HAPPENING?
1. I really wanted this to be a review of Magic Under Glass. It's too late to save this book from its cover, and I do want to encourage everyone to read it, talk about it and support fabulousfrock. But after this? From now on?
2. Stop buying books from Bloomsbury Kids. You're on a budget crunch this year anyway. Stop buying books from Bloomsbury. (NOTE: please see Edit, below.)
3. All of you amazing, fantastic readers who are working on your YA novels: don't sell your works to Bloomsbury. Sell them to publishers who encourage diversity, publishers who respect chromatic cultures and characters.
4. Support Tu Publishing. It's necessary. It's important.
5. If you're as outraged by this as I am, say so. The contact info, including email, for the Bloomsbury Kids' Marketing office is available here.
The email I just sent them follows:
- To the Marketing staff of Bloomsbury,
Having spent too much money last year on less-than-stellar YA debuts, I resolved for 2010 to buy fewer debuts unless I had reason to be really excited about them. The first exception to the rule was Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass. I have been looking forward to reading this book for months.
This week I picked up my copy. And I learned that the heroine of the novel was from the Far East, had dark skin, and looked nothing at all like the white model on the cover of the book I bought.
My much-anticipated first YA reading experience of 2010 has been ruined by a disgusting example of Racefail from a publisher that really, really should have learned its lesson when this happened last summer. The people who were outraged over Liar were not minor inconveniences at whom you could wave a new cover until we went away. We learned the lesson of Liar, it seems, far better than you did.
This is the last book I will be buying from Bloomsbury Kids. As a publisher you have now proven to me that you do not respect the characters or the cultures I most want to read about. Bloomsbury does not deserve my money.
I will also strongly encourage the many YA fans and up-and-coming writers in my community not to submit their books to Bloomsbury. Instead I will encourage them to submit their novels to a publisher who wants more chromatic characters on their debut covers, not one who wants to erase the precious few we already have.
Aja Romano // bookshop
6. Please talk about what Bloomsbury is doing. Boost the signal on this. Let people know that this matters.
ETA: Please note that the description of Nim above comes from the *review* of the book, not from the author/official book blurb. However, the author has stated she would have preferred a non-white model, and hopes that one can be used for the paperback.
ETA, 1/19: Many readers have pointed out that boycotting hurts the authors writing the books we want to read, far more than it hurts the publisher. This is a valid point, and I don't in any way want to hurt J. Dolamore or her career. I also don't want to hurt other Bloomsbury authors whose covers may have been finalized months ago. So at this point, I think raising awareness, contacting Bloomsbury, and trying to work with the writing/publishing community to change minds and condemn this kind of practice is actually the most effective thing we can do in the long run.
The suggestion has been made that a website or blog devoted to tallying/cataloguing/raising awareness of whitewashed covers be made. Any / all other similar suggestions are welcome as well.
Thank you to Color Online, The Story Siren, Jezebel, and others for spreading the word about this.
ETA: 1/20: Bloomsbury has just announced that they will be temporarily halting all sales and releasing a new jacket for Magic Under Glass, with a model who more accurately reflects the main character's ethnic identity.
I think the ensuing discussion, debate, and collective anger raised on the issue of whitewashing in YA and Children's lit (Coverfail) has been more effective than a boycott could have been to raise awareness and condemn this practice in Bloomsbury and in other publishers. I admire everyone who spoke out about this. You made a difference.