Set the Right Expectations With Back Cover Blurbs, Please
When was the last time you read the copy on the back of a book?
Did the blurb create expectations about the book?
What happens when a book doesn’t meet those expectations?
Over the last week, I read two books where the back cover blurb set up inappropriate expectations. I could not enjoy the books as I was reading them because my brain was constantly telling me I had been lied to.
The two books were Buried Fire and The Leap, both by Jonathan Stroud, published by Hyperion. Both are good YA fantasy books, well written with engaging characters, interesting plots, and enjoyable plot twists. Unfortunately, both were marketed as straight-forward hero’s journeys, and neither was. Because I was reading them to understand how other writers are handling YA urban fantasy, I finished the books. But, I am going to question every book from Hyperion in the future.
According to the cover, The Leap is about a girl who follows a dead friend into a parallel universe through her dreams. But, the story as written is not just her story. The chapters alternate between her point of view and her brother’s. The end of the book reveals the value of that structure with a lovely plot twist, but I could not enjoy the journey of reading to the end because I was confused by the expectations created by the cover blurb.
The cover copy for Buried Fire said Michael would wake with dragon powers and would have to choose between freeing the dragon and solidifying his powers or fighting the dragon and saving the people he loved. That was sort of true. In one moment in the climax, he made such a choice, but it was a minor moment. The most important moment involved action by his sister. There is no single protagonist in Buried Fire. The story is told from multiple perspectives and is actually the story of how an entire village reacts to the awakening of the dragon. Michael is a central character, but not the central character.
In retrospect, the books were actually better than the blurbs implied. There was more subtlety in the storytelling: more nuance to the narrative and more complexity in the character development. They should have been more enjoyable to read.
The disconnect between the expectations set-up by the cover and the actual text ruined the reading experience for me.
Is there a book you have read that ended up being very different from what you expected? How did you feel reading it? Let me know in the comments.