Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

July 10, 2012 Books 16

You guys, I’m not sure I can review this book without loosing my cool, so I’m just going to come out with my problem. This cover is white-washed and it seriously disappoints me. Callie LeRoux, the main character, the girl on the cover, our protagonist, is half white, half fairy. The fairy half is dark-skinned. Bluntly, she’s half black. She is described has having dark, kinky hair that her mother has difficulty taming (My hair was another story. My black hair was my mother’s worst enemy. “So coarse,” she’d mutter while she combed the tangles out.) and she has been made to dress in long-sleeves, hats, and scarves all her life to keep her skin light. Throughout the story, which is set in the 1930s dust bowl era, she worries about people finding out her secret.

You see, her race is a major plot point. And she is white washed on the cover. The issues she deals with? Callie even deals with them on the cover of HER OWN BOOK. Random House, I am disappointed in you. You didn’t even put it in the description of the book!

This new trilogy will capture the hearts of readers who adore Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series. Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she’s never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone, when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in “the golden hills of the west” (California). Along the way she meets Jack a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there’s also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.

I am a 34-year-old white woman, living in the 21st century. I’m Southern. I’m married. I have kids. I AM WHITE. I am not half anything, not even fairy. And I had no problems identifying with Callie. Her struggle to find her place in this world is universal. Everyone: man, woman, child, teen, adult, black, white; we all go through it. However, blacks have and continue to go through it more. And we all have so much to learn from stories like this. So give us readers some credit, give a race its due, give a great story some credit, and come down off your high horse. Fix the cover.

At first, I wasn’t going to point this out quite so vehemently, but the more I think about it and the more I talk about it with others, the more upset I get. Then the fantastic Leila Roy (from Bookshelves of Doom) reviewed it for Kirkus and she said something that really resonated with me:

I’m going to bring up The Crappy Thing first, though, because if we don’t continue pointing this stuff out, nothing’s ever going to change. Heck, even when we do keep harping, it keeps on keepin’ on anyway.

So, here I am. Harping. Fix the cover. And readers, in the meantime, don’t judge this book by its cover.

Also? This is really not much like Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series. Gemma was more like a witch than a fairy. It was set in a British private school. And she’s very white. Go figure.

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16 Responses to “Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel”

  1. Keri Payton

    People relate to a character because of how they act, not how they look. Especially since a lot of covers have that generic pretty girl on the cover. Isn't it better to have a model who actually looks similar to the character in the story? Whitewashing is offensive. Sadly, authors don't have any real control over what their covers look like but I'd hate to be an author who ended up with a whitewashed cover. It's not cool. Excellent post.

    • Heather

      Thanks Keri. I'd hate to be an author with a whitewashed cover too. It feels like it takes what she did with her story and…I don't know…cheapens it somehow.

  2. @sydneethompson

    This literally tugs at my heartstrings. It's so offensive and so unnecessary. It insults our intelligence as readers and seems to suggest publishers are a bit deficient in their own. Thank you for bringing attention to it. I hope that soon people will wake up and realize black is beautiful too.

    • Heather

      Yes! It insults our intelligence! Very well put. And yes, black is beautiful too, as well as intelligent, compelling, and worthy of more respect too.

  3. bermudaonion

    Since her color is a major plot point, the cover definitely needs to be pointed out and I think you for doing so.

  4. Andi

    Great job, Heather! I'm so so so so sick of seeing these types of things pop up over and over again. You'd think the publishing industry would catch on to the dissent and make the changes that need to be made to uphold some integrity.

    • Heather

      And thank you again for proof reading this! I was so nervous about posting it, but it just disappoints me so much when publishers to this. And to such a good book! It actually affected how much I enjoyed the book too. :(

  5. aartichapati

    Oh, that's so upsetting. I just can't believe that publishers keep doing this. In a way, I *kind* of get what they are saying about white people not picking up books without white people on the cover, not because they are racist but because now any book with a POC on the cover is marketed ONLY TO THAT RACE. But, quite frankly, that is the fault of publishers, too, so I have very little sympathy.

    What bothers me even more is that people who are white but write about POC get published more often than POC do when they write about their own race. WHAT?

    Everything upsets me about this topic. Really. Everything.

  6. Debi

    Had not heard about this. Thank you, Heather, for your voice. Like Aarti just said, EVERYTHING about this is just so damn upsetting. :(

  7. Emily

    Wow, that pisses me off. So glad you mentioned it, Heather. The more times it gets mentioned, the better.

  8. Rebecca

    I just do not get the white-washing. The girl on the cover looks like she is Indian. She does not look half-black at all. Ridiculous. You would think that by now publishers would take the hint.

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