Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Knife and The Butterfly by Ashley Hope Pérez: review and cover art story

As I consider which novels to buy in book or ebook formats, the cover factors. A beautifully designed book is a piece of art, but it’s only worth owning if the story is equally good. As an artist and a writer, the intimate link between art and words intrigues me.

Today we have a special guest post (below) on cover art by author Ashley Hope Pérez. The Knife and the Butterfly (February, 2012) is young adult fiction, inspired by a true story of gang violence in Texas.

Blurb: Azael Arevalo wishes he could remember how the fight ended. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. He can picture the bats, the bricks, the chains. A knife. But he can’t remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars. Azael knows jails, and something isn’t right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl, Lexi, in some cell. Watch her and try to remember.  The knife cut, but somehow it also connected.

My Review: 

How do two lost souls find the truth behind bars? Azael turns to art and Lexi to her journal to come to terms with their troubling past. Azael narrates in a ghetto thug voice, but his compassion for others makes him a sympathetic character. Although her story was well told, I had more troubles relating to self-absorbed Lexi. The resolution of their overlapping narratives was both satisfying and poignantly tragic. The swearing, sex, drugs and violence might irk some conservatives, but none of it is gratuitous. The powerful writing delivers a moral message without sounding preachy.

I recommend The Knife and the Butterfly to mature teens, especially to older boys, and to teachers/counselors of teens at risk. This moving tale about redemption would cross over well to an adult audience too. With its striking cover and meaningful story, The Knife and The Butterfly would be a fine addition to any library. Brava, Ashley and Laura!

Disclosure: this post is part of blog tour organized by the publisher, including a free digital galley. You might remember the author from my review/interview of What Can't Wait.

Guest Post from Author Ashley Hope Pérez: 
Behind the Cover Art

Ashley Hope Pérez

With my debut novel, What Can’t Wait, I didn’t see any of the preliminary covers, just the gorgeous final selection by the Carolrhoda Lab (and Lerner) rock stars. For The Knife and the Butterfly though, my editor Andrew Karre brought me inside the process. Although Andrew and the publisher are the ones with votes, I got to see some of the preliminary cover designs and weigh in on them. 

I saw about a dozen very cool designs; here I’ll show you two contenders and explain why the actual design was chosen and developed. Refining the ideas was a group effort, but the senior graphic designer at Lerner, Laura Otto Rinne, was the main mastermind behind the cover. About her work on this project, she said that she "wanted to create something as complex and meaningful as the novel's prose."

What I loved about this concept was that it incorporated drawing, which is so central to the novel. As is, it’s not the kind of sketch that I imagine Azael doing, but that probably would have evolved. And the cool thing about a sketch is that it plays into the way that everything—for Azael and Lexi—is provisional, still subject to further revision. In the end, though, I thought the overall feel of the cover (especially the banner across the top) was too playful for the tone of the book.

This cover grabbed my attention; I was especially drawn to the subtlety of the Rorschach-esque butterfly. The only thing I didn’t love about the cover was that it failed to communicate something critical about the knife in the novel: it has two blades. Which brings us to the forerunners to the actual cover...

This cover was compelling... the darkness of it, the anonymity of the male figure, how the double-bladed silhouettes fit perfectly into his shoulder blades, and of course how the silhouettes also suggest a butterfly. My concern about this cover—especially in a vampire-saturated market—was that it would play on the “dark fantasy” frequency of Twilight, especially since those silhouettes could be wings... dark angel, anyone?

We’re getting closer to the final design, but we’re not there yet. This cover has this cool double symmetry going on—left-right with the silhouettes and top-bottom with the ampersand as the fold point. Very visually compelling. The silhouette options give the reader an idea of what the knife in the novel is like. I also like how the butterfly is implied but the overall look of the cover remains stark and masculine enough to appeal to guys.

What’s perfect here that wasn’t quite right in the previous cover (in my opinion)? Here, the vertical line with the title strengthens the suggestion of the butterfly without making it too obvious. This is very close to the final cover, with some adjustments to the font (the gothic print was hard for some people to read) and shifts in color allocation.

So that—in my simplified, highly un-specialized rendition—is how I landed the gorgeous cover that the Lerner design team designed for me. Major thanks to Laura Otto Rinne, my editor Andrew Karre, Carolrhoda Lab, Lerner, and all the folks who cooked up all this awesomeness—even what didn’t make it onto the final cover. I am one lucky author.

Blog Vacation: I'll be offline next week. Next post Wednesday February 22nd.


tina said...

It's very interesting how the cover art was chosen. It certainly catches the eye.

A Cuban In London said...

On catching a first glimpse of the cover and before reading your magnificent review, the artwork reminded me of The Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Of course, Ashley's book is a work of art in and of itself (great to have a person with a Latin surname on your blog! :-D) I thoroughly enjoyed your column and the whole process of how the final cover was chosen. I'm actually intrigued by the plot, too.

Thank you very much. You always introduce very interesting authors to us, avid readers.

Greetings from London.

☆sapphire said...


To choose cover designs must be one of the most exciting events in the course of bringing out books.
"A beautifully designed book is a piece of art" I sometimes buy books only because their covers are really good...
And thank you for the lovely review!

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Thanks, Tina and Sapphire, for sharing your thoughts. I had no idea about how the cover selection process worked before I became an author--it is still a revelation. @ A Cuban in London (from a Texan in Paris): I like to think the plot of the book lives up to the cover art, and several reviewers have mentioned things along those lines (appreciating the art even more after reading).

So! Go serve yourself a big dose of THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY. It's on, the book depository, and available from most booksellers... and do be in touch if you read it! I love hearing from folks.

Donna said...

This was neat to read. I often wonder about how covers are chosen and how much say the author has in them. I would think that since the author knows the story better than anyone, he or she should have a lot of say in what the cover art is. I've read books before where the cover has nothing to do with the story, which is annoying!

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Hi Donna! I agree that authors know the story best, but we don't always have a full enough understanding of the market... or of how a particular cover might speak to potential readers. That said, I was thrilled to be included in the process and to have a designer who was so tuned in to my own intentions with the novel. As you said, there are a shocking (!!) number of covers out there that not only don't fit the books they present to the world but even misrepresent them.

carolflowerhillfarm said...

The title and design grab me Ashley and Sarah. There is a bit of a startling chill about it. The sharp hard knife and the gentle, fragile spirit of a butterfly. Makes me want to know more . . . to read the book. Great to see the process of choosing the cover. Best of luck with your book!

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Hi Carol! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. If those were your impressions, my designer is, indeed, a rockstar. And I don't think the novel will disappoint, so I hope you check it out. Abrazos from Paris!

Amanda Summer said...

what a provocative subject matter for a ya novel. it is refreshing to know this genre is being elevated with such a mature treatment by this author.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Thanks, Amanda. My publisher, Carolrhoda Lab, takes pride in pushing the boundaries of YA out and the standars up. I'm happy to be part of that. I love adult readers, too!

Jennifer Mirsky said...

Very interesting to see the progression of covers. Oddly, reminds me of Victoria Beckham's back! There is something very strong graphically about the vertical type.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Thanks for the link, Jennifer! I love the photo of V's tattoo--and you are right about the vertical type. My protag, Azael, would approve heartily--the designer, Laura Otto Rinne, would too, I bet.

Speaking of tattoos, I have one that helped me commit to writing. Story here:

Alisa said...

"Behind-the-scenes" posts like this are always interesting. The 1st cover for K&B (brown with the sketchwork) is the kind of cover that would make me buy a book - it looks like it holds the kind of story I would want to read. But, it's totally not right for Azael's story. I'd pick it up thinking I was getting one thing, and I might put it down disappointed when my expectation wasn't met. Also agree that the one with the guy looks like it's for a different book - it screams dark urban fantasy - vampires, werewolves, cults and magic. So fun to see the evolution.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Thanks for stopping by, Alisa! I totally agree about the first cover. The biggest revelation for me in the whole experience of seeing the cover art evolve is how it's not just the appeal of the art but that it's making the right "promise" to the reader about what she/he will get. I never thought about that much before.