Today, as part of her blog tour, I am so happy to welcome Sheila Dalton to Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf!
In Defense of a Cover
I have always loved the cover of The Girl in the Box, my book about a mute Mayan girl kept under lock and key in the Guatemalan jungle by her parents, and the effect she has on those around her. To me, the cover picture is not meant to be literal; it is a symbolic representation of all that Inez has been through, all that she has suffered. Inez is Mayan, and this girl could be Philippine or Vietnamese – but I was okay with that. I was also okay with the fact that the girl has clean hair and feet, and that the box, unlike the shed in the book, is cardboard.
When she is initially discovered by Dr. Simpson, Inez is being held in a windowless wooden shed. Her hair is matted, her feet would very likely be dirty. The box on the cover is meant to show how Inez is closed in on herself in so many ways, including her inability to speak.
I was thrilled that the publisher had found a stock photo which seemed to capture Inez’s psychological rather than physical condition. The only concession I made to match the Inez in the book to the girl on the cover was to make her hair long, when I had originally described it as short and spiky. On reflection, this made more sense. How would her parents have cut her hair? They were too poor even to own scissors.
I did mention to the publisher that I didn’t like it that the girl in the photo is nude, but she pointed out to me that she isn’t. You can see tank top straps, and she is meant to be wearing a bathing suit or shorts. To me, she looks very sad.
It came as a surprise to me when someone objected that she was clean, and “wearing lipstick”. Her lips look natural to me. I did, in fact, ask the publisher and designer to tone down the colour to avoid this misinterpretation. However, now she is accused of wearing “teenage” lipstick – bubblegum pink.
By far the most disturbing comment came from a man who insisted she was naked from the waist down and that the picture was sexual in nature. I am horrified that he thought this, and am upset that others may think so too. I, personally, do not find the picture sexual. Even if she was nude (and she isn’t), nothing inappropriate can be seen, and her pose and expression speak only of sadness and fear to me. As my son reassured me, “Not all nudity is sexual. And she’s wearing clothes anyway.”
Had I known that anyone at all would have seen the photo in this way, I would have insisted it be changed. As it is, I asked only that it be colour rather than black and white, that the lips be toned down, and the skin darkened just a little to make Inez look more Mayan.
I have total trust that the publisher was not trying to exploit sexuality in any way. She is a devout Christian and I know she would be as shocked and disturbed as I was by this reaction to a shot meant to show a sad and withdrawn young woman, in need of kindness and protection.
Title: The Girl in the Box
Author: Sheila Dalton
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Caitlin Shaughnessy, a Canadian journalist, discovers that Inez, a traumatized young Mayan woman originally from Guatemala, has killed Caitlin's psychoanalyst partner, Dr. Jerry Simpson. Simpson brought the girl, who may be autistic, back to Canada as an act of mercy and to attempt to treat her obvious trauma. Cailin desperately needs to find out why this terrible incident occurred so she can find the strength to forgive and move on with her life.
Inez, whose sense of wonder and innocence touches all who meet her, becomes a focal point for many of the Canadians who encounter her. As Caitlin struggles to uncover the truth about Inez's relationship with Jerry, Inez struggles to break free of the projections of others. Each must confront her own anger and despair. The doctors in the north have an iciness that matches their surroundings, a kind of clinical armour that Caitlin must penetrate if she is to reach Inez.
The Girl in the Box is a psychological drama of the highest order and a gripping tale of intrigue and passion.