Is This Thing On? *tap* *tap*

Well, that was a long break, wasn’t it? I return refreshed and ready to resume blogging activities.

First boring admin: I have yet to tackle my mail, given all the totally urgent work on my plate, I won’t get to it until the new year. Resend if urgent. I do try to answer all mail so if I still don’t answer in January could be my spam filters ate it.

And now some commentary over at the Misfits’ Book Club on the new covers of E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver books. It made me really happy for two reasons:

  1. It’s a very interesting discussion of covers. I’ve been working on a big fat post about covers for a while now. One of the things I talk about the divide between the way people who’ve read a book see the cover as opposed to those who have not. People forget that most covers designs are aimed at the people who haven’t read the book and haven’t heard of the author. Cassandra Mortmain’s1 discussion of the rejacketing of the Ruby Oliver books perfectly illustrates that divide. She’s unhappy with the new jackets but also hopes that it will bring in new readers. Her and me both.
  2. I’ve thought for ages that the Ruby Oliver books were being overlooked. Just because they’re fluffy and light does not mean that they don’t also have a lot to say about sex and gender in high school. It bugs me how often light books that tackle serious subjects just don’t register with many critics and award committees. For my money every one of the Ruby books should be garlanded with every award going. Cassandra Mortmain agrees with me. Most pleasing.

If you haven’t read the Ruby Oliver books. I strongly recommend that you do so. Rather than me explaining them, let Ruby tell you about the first book, The Boyfriend List:


In the same ten days I —

lost my boyfriend (boy #13)

lost my best friend

lost all my other friends

learned gory details about my now-ex boyfriend’s sexual adventures

did something shockingly advanced with boy #15

did something suspicious with boy #10

had an argument with boy #14

drank my first beer

got caught by my mom

lost a lacrosse game

failed a math test

hurt Meghan’s feelings

became a leper

and became a famous slut.

Enough to give anyone panic attacks, right?

I was so overwhelmed by the horror of the whole debacle that I had to skip school for a day to read mystery novels, cry, and eat spearmint jelly candies.

The Ruby Oliver book in order are: The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, Real Live Boyfriends (out next year). Read them!

That is all.

  1. This is a pen name. For those of you who don’t know Cassandra Mortmain is the protag of the marvellous I Capture the Castle. Yes, my feet are in the sink as I write this. []


  1. Becca on #

    Yes, yes, yes. Love that Ruby Oliver. And I tend to love realistic fiction, which in general puts me somewhere outside the lines, lately. But these are great – I get voice envy just reading jacket copy. Great recommendations – consider them seconded.

  2. annie on #

    i love e. lockhart’s books. especially the ruby oliver series. i feel like they are often such a slim volume on the book shelves and for some reason get over looked by other more hyped YA books. i think the original covers are really smart and interesting, but it definitely seems like covers with faces sell more. the new covers are cute, though i would have liked to keep imagining what ruby looks like.

  3. margaret (aka Cassandra) on #

    Thanks so much for linking my post, Justine! I’m incredibly flattered, it was such a fun surprise to come home to.

    As for praising the Ruby Oliver books, I have to say, I barely even began in that post. I had a lot more direct commentary towards the front that, sadly, got chopped out when I edited the post down. I really can’t praise these books enough. Their exceptional quality really hit me in book three, when Ruby is reading Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth for school– thinking about Lily Bart and Ruby as a matched pair is really illuminating. Both E. Lockhart and Edith Wharton have managed to dramatize really brilliantly the painful ways women can be victimized for being attractive when it’s not a quality they are in full control of. They also demonstrate the stiffling constrictions of small, elite groups and the intense pain of being ostracized from one of them. That E. Lockhart has managed to create a story with such complexity and depth, while keeping Ruby, her narrator, a completely realistic 15-16 year old, is really incredible. When you then consider how funny and readable the books are as well, it becomes even more astounding.

    I could definitely write more (and maybe will) but for now I just wanted to wholeheartedly second your recommendation.

    And lastly, while classic YA fans who come across the blog post will recognize the name, wanted to make sure others knew that Cassandra Mortmain is just my “pen name.” When she’s at home, she’s the main character of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. When I’m at home, I go by Margaret.

  4. Justine on #

    Annie: I’m not entirely convinced that faces sell best. I’m looking at a whole bunch of bestsellers like Shiver, Beautiful Creatures, Leviathan, Twilight and there’s not a face in sight. I think YA publishers simply do more covers with faces on them, which winds up giving the impression they sell best, but I can point you to plenty of face covers that tanked. (A few years back the wisdom was that faces didn’t sell and you had all those headless covers.)

    Margaret: I am a huge fan of I Capture the Castle. I just assumed people would realise. Am clarifying just in case.

    You should definitely write more about the Ruby Oliver books. Yes, please!

  5. margaret (aka Cassandra) on #

    I figured you knew, Justine, I just wanted to make sure your readers did. I feel funny taking such a great name without giving credit.

  6. Jennmonk on #

    Yeay! Another Ruby Oliver book!

  7. Amber on #

    Oh I’ve read The Boyfriend List! It was a very good read, very well written, though I do not actually own the book (I borrowed it from the library). I actually don’t like the cover personally, but it was recommended by another author and the synopsis I read made it sound interesting.

    I do think covers can help sell books. I recently bought another of The Princess Diaries book, and I’m loving the new cover so much more than the one I had in high school (which I can’t find, so even though I have the old copy (somewhere), it does me no good). The cover caught my eye, in a way the old ones didn’t. I’m enjoying the story so much more as well, but since I can’t remember all the details I read so long ago it’s really like a new book.

  8. Heather on #

    I just recently read the Ruby Oliver series. I loved it. I haven’t read another book that portrayed high school & teen life so realistically/accurately. If only I had had these books when I was in high school.

    I adore I Capture the Castle. It is one of my favorite books. The movie was really good too.

    On the topic of covers: If a book has a “perfect,” skinny, curvy girl on the cover then some people may feel like they can’t identify with the main character from the start. And that’s a shame. I remember seeing Maureen Johnson’s covers of just a body, and thinking it wouldn’t be my kind of read. Thank goodness I picked it up any ways, because I adore Maureen and her books are wonderful. If a cover is cryptic and interesting (Looking for Alaska, Twilight, Lament, Hunger Games, So Yesterday, etc, etc) then people will be curious. That’s why I like the frog, and snowman, and penguin covers of the Ruby Oliver series. Not that having people on covers can be a bad thing. The Mortal Instruments are amazing books and have interesting covers that still include people.

  9. Heather on #

    Sorry I forgot to mention: I just bought How to Ditch Your Fairy from Audible and I love the cover with just the hammer on top of the fairy versus the other cover of the girl. Maybe having multiple covers can draw in people from both sides.

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