The Romeo and Juliet Code

I freely admit that I tend to judge a book by its cover.  After all, it’s the first glimpse of a book that I get.  A good cover will tell me what genre the book falls into, what the target audience is (young readers, middle grade, YA, adult), and just a smidge about the book–without giving anything critical away.  It will also show me a little about the book’s tone.  For instance, a dystopian book with a bright pink cover is probably a bad idea.  I want the covers of these books to be as bleak as the environments depicted on the pages. 

The cover of my latest read, The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (another nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Book Award), was, in my most humble opinion, a failure on all counts.  The book itself was okay, but it did not match the cover in any way.  That bothers me.  Anyway, here’s the cover:

Now, judging by the cover, and even the title to a certain degree, one would likely expect this book to be a middle-grade, contemporary–possibly geeky–romance. Well, one would be wrong. The Romeo and Juliet Code is a work of historical fiction. It takes place from May to December of 1941 in the town of Bottlebay, Maine. Is there anything about this cover that suggests historical fiction to you? If there is, please let me know!  There is a small bit of romance in this book, but certainly not enough to warrant this cover.  Maybe I should have my students design a more fitting cover for this book. 

Moving on to the story…

The Romeo and Juliet Code introduces readers to Felicity Bathburn Budwig, a young  British girl who is moving to Maine to stay with relatives for the duration of World War II.  Her parents leave her with family members she’s never met, and Felicity doesn’t really know where her parents are going or when–or if–they will return for her.  They don’t even write to her…but they do send letters to her Uncle Gideon.  Felicity is barely allowed to touch these letters.  That, of course, makes her want to know what the letters are hiding.

With the help of Derek, a boy who lives with the Bathburn family, Felicity learns that these mysterious letters are codes being sent from her parents.  But what do they say?  What is the code’s connection to Romeo and Juliet?  Do the codes have anything to do with the war that is sure to involve America at any moment?  Just what are her parents involved in?  And can Felicity and Derek figure everything out–including the mystery surrounding the turmoil in the Bathburn family–before they lose their minds?  Discover the truth when you read The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone.

While this book is a decent historical mystery with a dash of young love, it wasn’t exactly a quick read, and that–along with the misleading cover–will make this one a hard sell.  I know some of my female students will pick up the book because of the current cover, but the “bait and switch” here might turn them off once they start reading.  Most of my male students won’t pick up this book at all because the cover makes it look like a “girl book.”  Again, a redesign would help tremendously, and that may well be how I get students to read this one.  I’ll give them the opportunity to recover my library’s copies of this book with their own designs.  They’ll have to create covers that accurately depict the book without giving too much away.  Of course, they’ll have to read the book to enter the cover design contest.  Something to think about…

If you’d like more information about The Romeo and Juliet Code and other books by author Phoebe Stone, visit http://www.phoebestone.com/.

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