Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Judging a Book: You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt

The cover of Elliott Holt's debut novel You Are One of Them cleverly obscures half the face of a person standing at a train window with a black cloud of what could be spray paint, an ink blot, a smear of violent graffiti.  Designer Janet Hansen takes advantage of that dark blot of negative space by filling it with the title and author's name.  The partial black mask is, of course, a nice play on the title's implied theme of identity, assimilation, and homogeneity.  The book will be released at the end of May and it's already in my To-Be-Read queue.  Here's how the publisher, Penguin Press, summarizes the plot:
Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones are best friends in an upscale part of Washington, D.C., in the politically charged 1980s. Sarah is the shy, wary product of an unhappy home: her father abandoned the family to return to his native England; her agoraphobic mother is obsessed with fears of nuclear war. Jenny is an all-American girl who has seemingly perfect parents. With Cold War rhetoric reaching a fever pitch in 1982, the ten-year-old girls write letters to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov asking for peace. But only Jenny's letter receives a response, and Sarah is left behind when her friend accepts the Kremlin's invitation to visit the USSR and becomes an international media sensation. The girls' icy relationship still hasn't thawed when Jenny and her parents die tragically in a plane crash in 1985.  Ten years later, Sarah is about to graduate from college when she receives a mysterious letter from Moscow suggesting that Jenny's death might have been a hoax. She sets off to the former Soviet Union in search of the truth, but the more she delves into her personal Cold War history, the harder it is to separate facts from propaganda.
Knowing a little more about the plot, I think the cover design creates the perfect atmosphere for the reader who will see that black cloud over half of (presumably) Sarah's face as she rides that cracked, decaying train in search of the truth about her friend.

When I emailed Elliot to express my enthusiasm for the jacket design of her novel, she responded:
What I love about it is that it captures the tone of the book perfectly: it's mysterious and melancholy. One of the central images in the book is of old Super-8 film melting. (The characters in the book watch home movies, and when the projector overheats, it creates a dark blot on the image as the film melts.) So the type treatment on the book jacket evokes that image beautifully.
In her Blurb o' Praise for the novel, Hannah Tinti hints at what the cover nicely alludes to:  “You Are One of Them journeys through the U.S. and Russia, perfectly capturing that frightening time in the 1980s when every child went to bed dreaming of mushroom clouds. Like the cold war, this remarkable novel revolves around hidden truths and unreliable friendships. Elliott Holt skillfully draws out her characters’ secrets, exploring the different ways we open and close our hearts, and delivering a well-wrought tale of international and emotional intrigue.”

Intrigue.  Yes, that's the word I was looking for when I was trying to describe what I like about this cover design.  I don't know about you, but I can't take my eyes off those concealed eyes on the cover.

No comments:

Post a Comment