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discussion: “magic under glass” January 19, 2010

Posted by Katie in community.

“Magic Under Glass” is a fabulous debut by author Jaclyn Dolamore, one that I recently had the privilege of reading. I purchased the book a) because it’s fantasy and I love fantasy; b) because it’s a debut author; c) because it was compared to Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy — some of my favorite YA books.

“Magic Under Glass” tells the story of Nimira, a troup dancer/singer who catches the eye of a wealthy man named Hollin Parry. Parry offers her the chance to sing in his home, with an automaton who plays the piano — an automaton that is haunted. Nimira accepts and soon finds that there is more to the automaton, to Parry, and to her new world than meets the eye.

Nimira is from the East. There are countless references to her skin color as she is dressed and undressed by servants of Parry. And I quote:

“She brought forth the splendid gown, with its rustling silk and air of grandeur. It dipped low in back and front, with cream and black velvet flowers crawling around the neckline, exposing what seemed like far too much of my brown skin. I tried not to care how pale Linza’s hands were against mine.” – Page 105.

As you can see from the cover image above — that is clearly a white model. She absolutely does not have brown skin.

Originally I hadn’t planned on blogging about this until Dolamore had a chance to personally respond. I prefer to get as much of the story as I can before leaping into the fray. Dolamore is preparing a post, as she stated right here, but I don’t want to wait any longer.

Timeline of Events:

(Please feel free to leave links in the comments. I haven’t gotten through my feed reader, so I know I’m already missing posts. I will work on adding those in tomorrow. All times reflect post times/dates as I see them on my screen.)

  • Jaclyn Dolamore through Flickr posts her drawing of Nimira [December 31st, 2009].
  • Aja at Bookshop calls attention to the fact that Bloomsbury has chosen again to use a white cover model instead of an accurate representation of the character’s race. As far as I can see, this is the farthest back post. Also, contains profanity, for those who are sensitive to that [Friday evening, 10:14 p.m.].
  • Ah Yuan at GAL Novelty writes about the cover controversy. Also provides helpful links to previous discussions about “Liar” [Saturday afternoon, 12:44 p.m.].
  • Ari at Reading In Color responds to finding out about the cover. Excellent links to other blogger posts [Saturday night, 8:37 p.m.].
  • Susan at Black-Eyed Susan’s discusses Bloomsbury’s whitewashing again [Sunday morning, 10:57 a.m.].
  • Ari at Reading In Color write an open letter to Bloomsbury about the issue [Sunday evening, 8:35 p.m.]
  • Kristi at The Story Siren asks if she’s a bad person because she didn’t notice the discrepancy between Nimira’s character and the cover model [Sunday evening, 9:04 p.m.].
  • Amy at My Friend Amy talks about why we are offended and how we should unite as a community [Monday morning, 10:32 a.m.].
  • Susan at Black-Eyed Susan’s explains further why she has chosen to boycott Bloomsbury [Monday morning, 10:50 a.m.].
  • Anna North writes at Jezebel about the cover controversy [Monday afternoon, 4:00 p.m.]
  • Ana at Book Smugglers ponders covers and their misrepresentations in YA literature [Monday afternoon, around 4:00 p.m.].
  • Colleen at Chasing Ray posts a summary of the events thus far [Monday evening, approximately 10:00 p.m.].

Here is what I know:

1. This cover is wrong. Bloomsbury was wrong to okay it. It’s wrong when people cannot see themselves on the covers of books because of color, because of size. Because someone decides what I’m going to buy or not buy ahead of time, without any clue with how I choose my books.

2. We — the blogging community — need to speak out about this and to speak out about this as often as we can. Because nothing’s going to be done if we don’t say anything.

2a. I have not always done so. I briefly mentioned the “Liar” cover controversy on the blog. Briefly isn’t going to cut it.
2b. I believe this offers us a chance to unite as a true community.

3. Authors have absolutely nothing to do with covers, for the most part. And I can’t imagine that a debut author has the power to debate the cover model with any kind of authority.

4. Boycotting “Magic Under Glass” or Jaclyn Dolamore is not my choice of action. I loved “Magic Under Glass” and am pleased to say I own it. It’s a wonderful book.

Here’s what I’m doing:

1. Not purchasing Bloomsbury books, but rather waiting patiently to check them out of the library.

2. I am making a change in my reading this year and trying to read more deliberately. I will be seeking out books that feature people of color prominently on the cover.

3. Additionally, I will be purchasing those books instead of checking them out of the library.

4. Speaking out about the issue, continuing to educate myself, and working to educate other bloggers and my teens at the library.

5. Contacting Bloomsbury to make them hear me as a reader, a blogger, and a librarian.

It’s 4:30 a.m. Chicago time. I have literally been reading about this for nearly eight hours straight at this point. I am not done updating the timeline or listening to the bloggers speaking out about this issue. Already, I have added nearly half a dozen bloggers to my feed reader, half a dozen new voices to be heard. Please keep talking about this very important issue.

I invite everyone to participate in the comments. Please be respectful and keep it clean, or I’ll remove the comment.


1. wolfshowl - January 19, 2010

I like your ideas with one caveat, I would definitely caution people against not buying Dolamore’s book, as low book sales could seriously hurt her as a debut author.

readwhatyouknow - January 19, 2010

I absolutely agree with you. Low book sales could hurt Dolamore’s chances of getting a sequel (which the book sets up for), or further book contractions.

I apologize if my post made it seem as if I was asking people not to buy “Magic Under Glass”. On the contrary, I own it, I’ve already ordered it for my library and will continue to booktalk it to publicize the author.

I’ve just made a decision to withhold from buying more Bloomsbury titles personally. I’d rather check them out of the library to support the author that way.

wolfshowl - January 19, 2010

I didn’t think you were (just from being a long-time reader of your posts), but I just wanted to make sure just in case for anyone else reading!

readwhatyouknow - January 19, 2010

Nothing wrong with some clarification. 😀

2. Sarah - January 19, 2010

I didn’t post anything about the Liar cover because I came in too late to the discussion and I felt I was just repeating what everyone else had said. Really, the kidlit world isn’t as big as we think and we all read each other’s blogs, so I didn’t think my comments would add anything. I’m hesitant to get into this discussion because of the turn of events with comments and some posters being rude-there’s a big divide happening right now and I don’t like it.

I do think it’s wrong to boycott the book itself. That’s not fair to the atuhor, especially to a debut author. Authors have no say over covers, so what about this makes us think Ms. Dolamore had any say at all over what went on the cover? I can understand boycotting the publisher, but boycotting the author is not the thing to do here-especially since this all came to light AFTER the book was publisher. At least with Liar, it was discussed before.

readwhatyouknow - January 19, 2010

Absolutely. And especially given that it was a great book. You’re completely right about Dolamore not having control over the cover (most authors aren’t even asked about their covers) and it’s obvious to me that the author portrayed Nimira as having dark skin color. [Really, it was such a great, interesting, different book. I cannot wait to write my review on it.]

I hesitated, too, before deciding to post. I haven’t done any commenting yet — I’m still trying to get the whole story. But I decided that it was worth it to at least make a post saying what I was doing, to (hopefully) educate others, and open up a discussion.

I sure don’t have any hard answers, mostly a lot of questions. And I’m not sure that my questions will ever be answered.

3. Sarah - January 19, 2010

I don’t know that there are any answers and I really do feel bad for the author. She just had a birthday (today I believe) and came back from a conference to find out about this discussion. How awful for an author to come back to this! She made a note on her blog that she wanted to respond, so I’m eager to hear what she says.

readwhatyouknow - January 19, 2010

I feel bad too. I really hope we get more books about Nimira, because the ending of this one is very open-ended and I would love to spend more time with these characters and this world. I’m waiting patiently to hear what she says, too.

4. Lauren (I Was A Teenage Book Geek) - January 22, 2010

I’ve only just read your post after hearing that Bloomsbury have decided to reissue the book with a new cover, and I have to mention that I really like the stance you took. I also posted about this and boycotting wasn’t my favoured approach either. I am also pledging to read more books featuring main characters who are people of colour, and I’ll look forward to reading your reviews.

readwhatyouknow - January 23, 2010

Thanks, Lauren. I really appreciate you saying that.

And I’m planning to write a bit about the cover change and more hopefully this weekend.

I look forward to getting book suggestions from you too!

5. poc reading challenge. « read what you know - February 2, 2010

[…] of the best things, in my opinion, that you can do in response to the whitewashing problems we’ve seen in YA fiction is by joining this challenge. I am very excited about this challenge and I encourage you to join […]

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