The Cover Wars

Despite sending him letters ever since she was thirteen, Taliah Abdallat never thought she’d ever really meet Julian Oliver. But one day, while her mother is out of the country, the famed rock star from Staring Into the Abyss shows up on her doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father, even though her mother would never admit it to her.

Julian asks if Taliah if she will drop everything and go with him to his hometown of Oak Falls, Indiana, to meet his father – her grandfather – who is nearing the end of his life. Taliah, torn between betraying her mother’s trust and meeting the family she has never known, goes.

With her best friend Harlow by her side, Taliah embarks on a three-day journey to find out everything about her ‘father’ and her family. But Julian isn’t the father Taliah always hoped for, and revelations about her mother’s past are seriously shaking her foundation. Through all these new experiences, Taliah will have to find new ways to be true to herself, honoring her past and her future.

Janet: The cover doesn’t entirely appeal, although it is tempting to linger and examine the details on each individual figure, as with The Rest of Us Just Live Here. It is odd that only one figure is blocked out by the title; is this deliberate? It seems like a mistake. A year or two ago I read a book with a similar premise, which was neither bad nor good. If I come across this I’ll look inside, but that’s the most effort I’m inclined to exert.

Nafiza: I usually find premises like this interesting in theory though I never actually willingly read contemporary that doesn’t have magical elements to it. Like Janet, I don’t find the cover particularly compelling. I don’t hate it or anything. It just doesn’t strike me as exceptional. In fact, I feel like I have seen something similar but more striking recently. I probably will give this one a miss simply because it’s not my genre unless someone sells it to me with a review. I could be persuaded.

When Lexi Green’s older brother, Charlie, starts plotting a road trip to find Adrian Wildes, a famous musician who’s been reported missing, she’s beyond confused. Her brother hasn’t said a nice word to her or left the couch since his girlfriend dumped him months ago—but he’ll hop in a car to find some hipster? Concerned at how quickly he seems to be rebounding, Lexi decides to go along for the ride.

Besides, Lexi could use the distraction. The anger and bewilderment coursing through her after getting dumped by her pretentious boyfriend, Seth, has left her on edge. As Lexi, Charlie, and their neighbor Zack hit the road, Lexi recalls bits and pieces of her short-lived romance and sees, for the first time, what it truly was: a one-sided, coldhearted manipulation game. Not only did Seth completely isolate her, but he took something from her that she didn’t give him permission to.

The farther from home they get, the three uncover much more than empty clues about a reclusive rocker’s whereabouts. Instead, what starts off as a car ride turns into an exploration of self as each of them faces questions they have been avoiding for too long. Like the real reason Charlie has been so withdrawn lately. What Seth stole from Lexi in the pool house. And if shattered girls can ever put themselves back together.

Janet: The cover’s art style is fine, just not my thing. The synopsis tells too much. I resent the phrase “shattered girls” and the entirety of the cultural construct that takes an individual girl and decides it’s okay to zoom out and class her as one of any number of “[adjective] girls” instead of as individuals with unique experiences. That said, I hope this book is a a good representation of emotionally and sexually abused girls and women, because (damn the kyriarchy) we still need more of these.

Nafiza: The cover is superbly boring and I couldn’t make it through the synopsis because it told too much and I simply don’t care about the characters to muddle through all that. I do like that the book seems like it will explore the relationship between a brother and a sister but this a solid pass for me.

The Memory Trees is a dark magical realism novel about a mysterious family legacy, a centuries-old feud, and a tragic loss that resurfaces when sixteen-year-old Sorrow returns to her mother’s family orchard for the summer.

Sorrow Lovegood’s life has been shaped by the stories of the women who came before her: brave, resilient women who settled long ago on a mercurial apple orchard in Vermont. The land has been passed down through generations, and Sorrow and her family take pride in its strange history. Their offbeat habits may be ridiculed by other townspeople—especially their neighbors, the Abrams family—but for the first eight years of her life, the orchard is Sorrow’s whole world.

Then one winter night everything changes. Sorrow’s sister Patience is tragically killed. Their mother suffers a mental breakdown. Sorrow is sent to live with her dad in Miami, away from the only home she’s ever known.

Now sixteen, Sorrow’s memories of her life in Vermont are maddeningly hazy; even the details of her sister’s death are unclear. She returns to the orchard for the summer, determined to learn more about her troubled childhood and the family she left eight years ago. Why has her mother kept her distance over the years? What actually happened the night Patience died? Is the orchard trying to tell her something, or is she just imagining things?

Janet: Again, the cover isn’t my thing and the back copy doesn’t appeal. Her name is SorrowLovegood. Are you kidding? I’d like to read about girls, farms, sisters, multiple generations of women, orchards, and magic realism, but this doesn’t look like the book for me.

Nafiza: I actually like the cover. I have a thing for trees so it may be that. But those names, yikes. I mean, Sorrow is stunning enough on its own that you can comfortably give her a common name. Sorrow and Patience…their mother wasn’t happily pregnant, was she? Still, I might be interested in this sorrow if only for what seems like a sentient orchard. Bring on the talking fruit trees. Or not.

In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

Janet: The cover looks somehow unfinished, but I kind of like it anyway. The first paragraph of the synopsis reminds me a little of Hazel from The Darkest Part of the Forest. We rarely see bad-girl friend books, let alone bad-girl girlfriend books; I can almost hear Yash typing “*grabby hands*” and I’m inclined to agree. The last line is irksomely vague, so the first few pages will decide it.

Nafiza: I really like this cover. There’s something so beautiful about the use of the space and the lines. Those two splashes of colour (author name and lipsticked lips) perfectly balance what would be too much white space. I am also intrigued by this new girl and how she upsets Vanni’s life. I would read the first few pages.

Marcos Rivas wants to find love.

He’s sure as hell not getting it at home, where his mom’s racist boyfriend beats him up. Or from his boys, who aren’t exactly the “hug it out” type. Marcos yearns for love, a working cell phone, and maybe a pair of sneakers that aren’t falling apart. But more than anything, Marcos wants to get out of Maesta, his hood—which seems impossible.

When Marcos is placed in a new after-school program for troubled teens with potential, he meets Zach, a theater geek whose life seems great on the surface, and Amy, a punk girl who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. These new friendships inspire Marcos to open up to his Maesta crew, too, and along the way, Marcos starts to think more about his future and what he has to fight for. Marcos ultimately learns that bravery isn’t about acting tough and being macho; it’s about being true to yourself.

Janet: Are the angles off on the cover, or is it just my tired eyes? But that synopsis – wow, yes please! I mean. The last lines are predictable and didactic, but the first paragraphs cast establish the feel of the story, Zach’s background is nicely ominous (plus THEATRE GEEK!), I want to meet Amy, and Marcos looks more and more interesting with each reread of the synopsis.

Nafiza: That’s a great title. I read it and I was immediately intrigued. Closest to what? Where? Who? How? And the cover is perfect too. It’s brave and attention-grabby. Also that back copy? Sign me up please.

The Blythes are a big, warm, rambunctious family who live on a small farm and sometimes foster children. Now Prez has come to live with them. But, though he seems cheerful and helpful, he never says a word.

Then one day Prez answers the door to someone claiming to be his relative. This small, loud stranger carries a backpack, walks with a swagger and goes by the name of Sputnik.

As Prez dithers on the doorstep, Sputnik strolls right past him and introduces himself to everyone in the household. Prez is amazed at the response. The family pat Sputnik on the head, call him a good boy and drop food into his mouth. It seems they all think Sputnik is a dog. It’s only Prez who thinks otherwise.

But Prez soon finds himself having to defend the family from the chaos and danger unleashed by Sputnik, as household items come to life – like a TV remote that fast-forwards people: ‘Anyone can do it, it’s just that people don’t read the instructions properly’; and a toy lightsaber that entertains guests at a children’s party, until one of them is nearly decapitated by it – and Prez is going to have to use his voice to explain himself.

It turns out that Sputnik is writing a guidebook to Earth called Ten Things Worth Doing on Earth, and he takes Prez on a journey to discover just those ten things. Each adventure seems to take Prez nearer to the heart of the family he is being fostered by. But they also take him closer to the day that he is due to leave them forever . . .

Janet: The cover art reminds me simultaneously of Foxtrots comic strip and of Dug from Up!  The back copy screams that this is Steph’s kind of story, and the hijinks Prez will undoubtedly get up to as he struggles to contain the chaos Sputnik unleashes (a subtle pun in the synopsis? be still, my beating heart) tempt me, as well.

Nafiza: Oh my gosh. The cover, the back copy. I WANT IT. Someone give it to me.