Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What the cover of "About a Girl" says about today's publishing world

The traditional publishing industry is located in one of the most liberal cities in America. On the whole its employees skew left.

Still, while homosexuality has been explored in YA novels for quite some time, it still says something that the cover for my friend Sarah McCarry's About a Girl felt like something new.

The traditional YA world pushed content boundaries in the '90s and '00s, becoming increasingly comfortable with realistic, even graphic portrayals of teenage sexuality. The industry also started putting racy covers on YA novels where sexuality was barely even a tangential part of the story.

And yet even with those boundaries redrawn, something as simple as two fully-clothed girls kissing on a cover is something that somehow has eluded the industry's norms.

We need diverse books, and one important step is for the publishing industry to get over its squeamishness about putting minorities and non-straight characters on book covers. Hopefully About a Girl is a sign that we're one step closer.


celiackiddo said...

It's a beautiful cover. Congrats to your friend and to the publishing industry for finally catching up to reality.

Inkling said...

We don't need diversity in relationships, we need old fashioned good sense and some compassion.

All this chatter about diversity is a distraction from what is perhaps the most destructive trend in our nation's history—all the children growing up in single parent households, whether the cause is divorce or never marrying.

Sociologically, there's nothing that more accurately predicts trouble ahead for a child than that. We all know some of the disastrous consequences.

The real underlying issue is whether those championing diversity on a trite scale but ignoring the millions of times repeated miseries of those children have a deliberate agenda they are concealing (think of Huxley's Brave New World) or if they're simply callous, conformist and stupid.

What's the defining concept of our culture? The utter unwillingness of so-called adults to create a healthy world for children. From legalized about to same-sex marriage, children are either tossed under the bus or sent to the back of the bus.

It's one of the worst bigotries in our nation's history. Even the Klan in its heyday never tried to destroy black families.

--Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily's Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan

Abby said...

What a lovely cover, and fingers crossed that it opens the doors to more honest, beautiful covers in YA and the rest of the publishing market. Looking forward to reading this one.

Lisa Brackmann said...

As a child mostly raised by a single mother, boy do I take issue with, well, just about everything you have to say, INKLING. It's an insult to those of us who did not grow up in the stereotypical two parent, suburban, white picket fence, etc. household. You are greatly simplifying a huge range of experiences to fit an agenda that wants to force us all into a mythical ideal society that never actually existed.

Maybe 50s America was a paradise for some, but it sure wasn't for everyone (ambitious women, people of color, gays, etc. etc. etc.).

If you actually want to help children, perhaps consider working for economic justice and supporting community resources (public libraries, for example), so more families of all sorts have the resources they need to raise them well, rather than picking on literature that is trying to reflect the diversity of human experiences.

InertialConfinement said...

I still haven't read Dirty Wings!!!

I loved All Our Pretty Songs so much. The book hit me in a way I hadn't experienced in a while, and I can't believe I haven't devoured all of Sarah McCarry's books. I need to fix this.

And this cover! So, so beautiful! The kiss isn't there to turn you on like same-sex couples are just a form of entertainment for straight people. I sense something real here, and if it's as beautifully written as All Our Pretty Songs, then I know I am correct in this assumption.

It's easy for people to dismiss the discussion of diversity in novels when not only are they already represented, but seen as the universal experience. These discussions are important. Thanks for bringing this up, Nathan!

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. While the percentage of gays is about 3.5% of the population (per gallup) the idea of homosexual relationships is far greater thrown out in our faces as if it is very more prevalent. Children/teens go through many sexual orientation questions as they are developing. They are confused at best! But our society is pushing our kids to "explore" these feelings without any consequences, or who it hurts. Our kids are getting into sexual relationship far too early before they are aware of themselves of who they are and what they want. I am not sure how that helps them as they mature, but hence why they should not be sexually active so young. We are teaching kids, if it feels good, do it. If you are attracted to it, do it. Without the maturity or responsibility of knowing who they are and how they are to act in the world. But mostly, this book cover, as well all the movies out with girl on girl scenes/characters are not really promoting a healthy homosexual relationship, but exploiting men's fantasy that pretty young girls want to have sex with each other. You are fooling yourself if this cover is an innocent expression of the bigger accepting LGBT community. It is again, exploiting sexual fantasies of very heterosexual men. I have no problem with the storyline or book, or that its cover is what it is. But I do have a problem with your analysis that this is to be celebrated. It is good that we live in a society that a cover like this can be published...but don't fool yourself as the to intention of the cover. It is exploitation at its best.

Nathan Bransford said...


Viewing everything (including this book cover) through the lens of a heterosexual adult white male is a major part of what led to a world where other perspectives are underrepresented. Though on top of that, I would add that the lecherous perspective that you describe is certainly not one shared by this adult male.

Anonymous said...


As a heterosexual woman, maybe I am jaded. But lately, all I seem to be seeing are young, beautiful girls kissing each other and having sex. I don't see it as a revolution, I see it as a sexual fantasy, by the wrong people. But hey....maybe I am wrong. Wouldn't that be nice?

Anonymous said...

P.S. Please excuse the incorrect spelling of your name....I know someone with the alternate spelling and it came out that way. No insult intended.

Jaimie Teekell said...

I am surprised at the comments you're getting. It's funny: I forget that people have these strange opinions. I read this post when it first came out and imagined this comment section would be quickly filled with cheers. Sad.

... I thought writers were the smart ones.

Well, it'll go the way of racism. Though we certainly have more progress to make on that front, we've made tangible strides in the last century.

So I guess, since few others are saying it, this is excellent. This will inspire. This is happy.

Jaimie Teekell said...

Oh, and can I just add, since the internet makes me bold? The very fact that someone cannot help but see sexualization in this sort of thing is a reason why we need more of this sort of thing.

Like, fucking where are the people implying the heterosexual romance YA novels which you plug on your blog are for disingenuous, lecherous, WHATEVER reasons? WHAT.

I'm going to go finish Slaughterhouse Five now, to calm down.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I think that the publishing industry is less worried about the readers' response to these book covers (especially because many - though not all - Millenials tend to be more open-minded) than about some of their parents' responses to it. I read an article recently about how a mother tried to get the Diary of Anne Frank banned from her child's school curriculum, because the book's depiction of sexuality. Apparently the mother has never heard of the Internet or television.

Linda Pressman said...

Thank you, Nathan, for profiling this book. As the mother of a gay teenage daughter who is always looking for books that reflect her life and her future, I'm so happy to see this.

Alana Roberts said...

Wow, there are a lot of issues tied up in this. I see those who still dare to believe and say that homosexuality is not normal working very hard to hedge their comments, to show how much thought is going into holding onto an opinion that our nation's media has been working so hard to push for the last twenty years. I don't see the same thought - just knee-jerk moralizing and internet "shaming" - from those who consider such opinions to be immoral in themselves.

Perry was right, for one thing. The ideal, the situation that has the best chances of working out well for children, is to be raised in a home with one parent of each sex. This is well documented, and not every family lives in suburbia with a white picket fence, that's a ridiculous stereotype. You can offer the Creator, or Evolution as an explanation but long story short, our recent revolt against traditional sexual mores is hurting children, and all of us.

Of course there are naive people who believe what they see in novels and movies so deeply that to them, the worst way you can hurt someone is by depriving them of the "happy ending" in which they get to be with the person they yearn for. And ideally, that would happen to all of us. But in this imperfect world, it is not just homosexuals, but many, many people who don't get to be with the person they initially fell in love with. That person, that relationship, is not always good for you.

That said, I prefer to take it seriously when people say that they've felt like the opposite gender in their own skin, or when they say that they've always been romantically oriented toward the same sex, since a very young age or birth. The fact that this is how people are experiencing themselves suggests to me that something new is happening in our time. 50 or 60 years ago the usual pattern for homosexuality was either a) the highly intelligent aesthetically gifted male or b) the "sailor" type - the guy who gets thrown in with a bunch of guys for a long time and is so addicted, not to sexuality or romance, but to the climactic experience, that they make use of the men around them.

The fact that this is changing, and that people are experiencing themselves this way suggest to me some kind of environmental pollutant. My guess is that a lot of young homosexuals are the subjects of some gross misfortune which pits their mental sexuality agains the bodily sex. The pollutant could be physical, such as synthetic hormones or deficient pregnancy hormones, or it could be psychological, such as being deluged with semi-pornographic images from a young age as we all are to some extent now. Or some combination of those two, or something entirely undiscovered as of yet.

Of course it could be due to changing gender roles which don't support normal sexual development anymore.

The one thing it is NOT, is normal. Unfortunately, the political climate does not support the kind of research that would discover environmental factors of this kind.

There's a big trend for people who are experiencing abnormal psychological or neurological conditions to try to normalize them. I don't see that it does much harm to sufferers from ADHD or Asperger's to put a positive spin on it. However I don't think it's fair to normalize the enormous disruption to a child's life when they discover their mind and their members are at odds. said...

Wow Nathan - did you know you were going to start a moral debate with your post? I was beginning to think I was on the FOX News channel website!
I totally agree with you - glad the publishing industry is making room for those who live "outside the picket fence". Good luck to your friend!

Old School Mama said...

These comments are simply sad. i was raised by a dual parent household and looking back I wish my parents would have just divorced and saved us the debilitating trauma us children have, now as grown adults.

We need more diversity in books, but we also need more people to read them as well despite how "shocking" the cover might be.

Jaimie Teekell said...

@Alana Roberts

The fact that some people are exhibiting thought and some people are not exhibiting thought bears no weight on the morality or legitimacy of the stances themselves. What you need to ask yourself is, "What is the purpose of this person's comment?" and evaluate whether they succeeded or not, although that's kind of deep for a comment's section if you ask me.

InertialConfinement said...

It makes me cringe when people say, "These books are normalizing a lifestyle for children who are confused and will persuade them to become gay and do everything because it feels right..." and so on.

I wasn't confused about my attraction. I was confused about whether it was wrong and should I keep it a secret. The question wasn't "am I bisexual?" but "Will I be accepted?" And there isn't a movement to push teens into sex. There is a movement that says parents should stop denying that teens sometimes do have sex and it isn't the end of the world.

I like Sarah McCarry. I like this book cover. I don't like the fact that anything and everything that has a careful and in-depth exploration of what it's like to be a girl in a same-sex relationship is written off as appealing to a male fantasy.

I am not bisexual for males. I don't write for males. I don't read for males. And if I enjoy seeing one book in the bookstore with two girls sharing an intimate kiss among the many books with intimate and sexual heterosexual kisses, grabs, and embraces, it's not for the benefit of the males in the store.

And that's why I love this cover--the kiss is intimate, not sexual. It doesn't make me think "hot, sexy time!" It makes me think "emotional connection." And that's why I can't wait to read this book--I want an in-depth look at a relationship with strong emotional connections that represents more than the heterosexual point of view.

Carrie-Anne said...

I think it's awesome to see a GLBT-positive book for young people, though I'm really tired of all the covers (regardless of orientation) with kissing or almost-kissing characters. It's like the headless bare chest—unoriginal.

Katherine Hajer said...

You missed a third, and very traditional, reason for growing up in a single parent household: the death of a parent.

My father died when I was 13, and both myself and my younger brothers have grown into responsible, self-supporting adults, thank you very much.

The only people who have ever tried to "toss [me] under the bus" are people who show prejudice against those with a different family configuration than the so-called standard.

Alana Roberts said...

Jaimie, all I'm saying is that right now it is easy to show public approval for sexual divergence, and hard to show public disapproval for it. Generally the disapprovers go one of two routes. Either the effort required to push through the climate of opinion intensifies and amplifies their disapproval into something down right destructive, or they hold on to their desire to make peace and are therefore forced to think rings around everyone else in order to justify their opinion.

Alana Roberts said...

InertialConfinement, the question of whether same-sex attraction happens is different from the question of whether it is normal. In fact, even the question of whether it happens spontaneously, compulsively, and involuntarily is different from the question of whether it is normal.

Medically normal, psychologically normal, morally normal, biologically normal.... These questions have barely even begun to be explored yet, but public opinion has jumped ahead of things as usual - driven, as Nathan points out, by the emotional argument-substitutes of the left-leaning media.

So when I say that images like this are normalizing something, I am not trying to say that you should have denied what you experienced or hidden it or been ashamed. But hopefully sometime in the future, youngsters in your situation will have someone to talk to about it in a professional, clinical, non-judging way that can help them deal with, and perhaps correct, the dissonance between mind and biology.

I hope that cringe doesn't last too long.

Alana Roberts said...

Katherine, a couple of close friends lost their father when we were all in elementary school. It's unthinkable to me that someone would have judged you for that. And of course, it makes perfect sense that you would have grown up just fine. After all, human beings are adaptable.

That doesn't mean that your dad passing away was the best thing for you.

Neither is homosexual attraction.

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