The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher: Freeform Books

I had wanted to read this book for a long time, so I deliberately didn’t learn much about it.  I do know that I loved the cover – beautiful and eye-catching. But as we all know, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

The Belles is beautifully written, almost to the point where you can visually see the descriptions come off the page. Dhonielle Clayton doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Though personally,  I did love this about the book. Clayton’s words and descriptions are scrumptious. Almost every page has a description exquisite to read.

Glass canisters hold colourful liquids. Golden pins poke out of a pink velvet cushion. Carts hold tiers of pastries frosted in rose-petal pinks and pearly whites and apple reds, flutes overflow with jewel-tone liquids and sugar-dusted strawberries and pomegranates sit in glass bowls. Vases spill over with flowers in a rainbow of colours.

Though, I love the decadent and gorgeous descriptions I am not sure they will be for everyone. I can imagine after awhile that they become tedious for many readers and readers will find themselves skimming over the rich descriptions to get on with the story.

The story revolves around a land called Orleans, where everybody is born ugly – skin is grey and eyes are red. This is the natural state of the citizens of Orleans. And this is where the Belles come into play. It is their role to transform the citizens of Orleans – to keep them beautiful.

Belles are kept in seclusion until their sixteenth birthday when they are delivered to Orleans in a grand ceremony.

Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, blessed with the arcana to enhance the world and rescue the people of Orleans.

Of course, like everything that is sought after, beauty in Orleans comes at a price – changing one’s appearance is a painful process.  The citizens of Orleans are obsessed and are willing to pay whatever price is needed to keep themselves beautiful and relevant.

Within the book, we have our flawed heroines and we have our villains. The villains in this story are cruel, twisted and dark and have an insatiable appetite to destroy and mock. The villains appear to have no redeeming features and tend to get darker and more ruthless as the book progresses.

I did find the book hard to get into and though I found the writing gorgeous, at times, though,  it did hinder the story. The book does start to get its rhythm about a third of the way through and everything starts to fall into place and you understand where Clayton is going with the story.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and it does leave you wanting more, mainly since the book’s pace develops quite quickly at the end and you are taken on quite a ride.

I do worry that Clayton will alienate a lot of readers with her rather elaborate prose (mainly male readers). I find that most males will read a book with strong female characters, but I am not entirely sure that male readers will persevere with this story. I found the cover quite beautiful and it drew me in but will it alienate male readers? Clayton wrote this book after eavesdropping on a conversation that a group of males were having, so isn’t part of the point of this book to make men understand those unrealistic standards of beauty are destructive and dangerous? How can this be achieved if men do not read this story? I don’t like to stereotype men but working in an all boys school tells me that this book will be a hard sell to young male readers.

 

Judging a book by its cover

Recently I bought two books, and I bought these books purely on their covers. I did not read the blurbs or the reviews. I am a book cover junkie, I love a great book cover, and I personally think there are a lot of book cover junkies out there.

Working as a teacher-librarian, I hate it when a great book comes into the library but it has the worst cover, or it has a cover that I know will be off-putting to my students.  We live in a world where most of what we do is visual. Children and teenagers, in particular, are constantly bombarded with visual information. Books need to reflect this changing world. Yes, what is inside the book is ultimately the most important, but a cover can make or break a book. I know for a fact that some fantastic books have been overlooked by my students purely because they can’t relate to the cover or they don’t want to be seen reading a book because of its cover. We live in a judgmental world, and we may wish we didn’t, but we do.

The book cover is the first page of your book. It needs to grab the reader. In a sea of books, the cover is what a reader is drawn to first and then they will turn it over and read the blurb. If you walk into a bookstore, unless you are looking for a specific book, it is the cover that will make you pick up the book.

In my first year as a judge, I read a book that was great, but look at that cover! What is going on there? When it came in the mail with the other books that I had to read, I immediately picked it up and rolled my eyes and thought I am going to hate this book, but I didn’t, and the cover makes the book look like a light-weight read, and it isn’t. Tara Eglington has written a book about friendship that most of us can relate to and she wrote about friendship in all its messy and intricate glory but does the cover show that?? Teenage boys and girls would appreciate this book, but I am not sure it reached the audience it should have with this cover. We did make it a notable, but all the judges agreed that the cover didn’t reflect the book.

goddess

Whether we like it or not, boys are more likely to be turned off by a girly cover. Books have arrived in the library that I know the boys will love, but the cover is pink or has a girl on the front, and I know it is going to take a hard sell from me to get the boys to borrow it. Sometimes I win the battle, but often I don’t, and it is frustrating because I know it is the boys who have lost the most by not reading the book.

Every boy I give this book to has loved it, but not one boy I know has picked this book up themselves and taken it home to read. The cover is just too girly. I wish we didn’t live in a world where boys felt intimidated to read a book with a girly cover, but we do. This is a great book, and it is a great cover, but it isn’t a cover that boys can relate to, and so they don’t read this excellent book which I know most boys would love. And by putting this cover on the front of a book, you have entirely alienated one half of your reading audience.

smooch

Boys will read a book with a female protagonist, but boys are reluctant to pick up a book that looks too girly. Boys like their protagonists to be sharp, witty and kick-ass, and so they will enjoy a book with great female characters. Even though this book has a girl on the cover, she looks tough and straight-forward, and the colours used on the cover reflect her no-nonsense attitude. This is a book that isn’t alienating boys!

frankie

Earlier in the year, we received The Shop at Hoopers Bend to be judged in the Older Reader category. We decided it needed to be moved to Younger Readers. The Shop at Hoopers Bend is a beautiful book, and I am pleased to see that it was short-listed in the Younger Reader category, but back to the cover! Yes, if you look closely, it reflects the magical quality of the book, not magic as in wizards and unicorns but magic as in everyday magic of coincidence, serendipity, love and friendship. To me, the cover is old-fashioned and boring. The Shop at Hoopers Bend is a beautiful and enthralling book that I am sure boys and girls would both love, but this cover isn’t doing it any favours. The cover isn’t terrible; it just needs a few tweaks to make it look more modern.

hoopers

I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. I am looking forward to reading the two books I bought recently, and I hope that they are as great as their covers. Yes, I have read books that have great covers but are terrible reads, but that’s another blog post! If you are curious, the two books that I bought are The Belles and Amelia Westlake.

ameliabelles