There’s a new book out with my name on the front cover. But it’s not by me.
The first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton
Sometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…
Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?
STARRING KITTY is by Keris Stainton: author of three YA novels, several adult novellas and a hilarious compilation of her sons’ daft musings; journalist; tireless promotor of UKYA via a website which you should all bookmark immediately; extraordinary fundraiser, responsible for raising over £57,000 (!) of donations to the Red Cross via the Authors for the Philippines appeal; official Twitter lovely, and all round quality human being. She’s also, I’m happy to say, my mate.
Which is why me biffing on about how fabulous I think her new book is on the cover might need a little context to mean anything.
Nathan Filer wrote last week in the Guardian about the daftness of cover blurbs. Why did Joe Dunthorne publicly praise The Shock of the Fall? “I think he owed me a favour.” I suspect most readers assume this is the case. UK kidlit and YA is an even smaller world than modern British literary fiction; if you’re asked to blurb someone, you might well have been to the pub with them last week. Readers aren’t dim. All those ‘a heart-rending work of genius and also serious literary merit, with jokes in, and so page-turning!’ phrases might as well have been written by the author’s mum for all the credence anyone gives them.
Not that blurbs are always so effusive. ‘Sure to be a big hit this summer’ sounds a polite, dutiful note. Sometimes the cover placement smacks of something other than conviction.
Who wrote this again?
So why do publishers bother?
Because there are SOOOOOOO MANY BOOKS and letting readers find the one that’s perfect for them gets harder and harder when print review space is shrinking all the time. I do think authors have an idea what a readership wants to know, and an apt choice of blurber can be as useful a ‘this is for me!’ cue as cover design or title. (Though there are limits to how far this can stretch. Nil points to whoever chose to describe a recent YA as ‘perfect for fans of John Green, Michael Grant and Stephen King’. That’s not a blurb, that’s a bingo card.)
And, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t blurb a book I didn’t like, even for a mate. Especially not for a mate. I enjoy being able to make eye-contact with my friends.
Which brings me back to Keris. I only know her because of books. I saw the cover of her first novel, Della says OMG!, and was immediately curious; my YA blog novel Big Woo!/Serafina67 *urgently requires life* had come out not long before, and I was longing to meet other writers who were doing that internet-in-books thing. It turned out that her Della was not in fact an internet-in-books book at all – but also that she’d read Big Woo! and liked it. Many stupid twitter conversations ensued. I found out we get shouty about lots of the same stuff. We’re both dorks for Barry Manilow. Our writing style isn’t remotely similar, but we both do ‘this is funny but it’s not a comedy'; we both write about issues without writing ‘issue’ books.
None of which means I’m obliged to like what she writes.
But STARRING KITTY is, truly, a special book that I want to take out dancing. I said a long time ago that I’d love to write a Georgia-Nicolson-esque young teen romance about a girl who liked a girl, but I never did – because it was a book I wanted to read, not write. That’s not what Kitty is, exactly; the family dynamic skews darker and deeper, the humour has a softer tone to let the story in. But that sense that this is a light funny romantic book for everyone, not to be put on a separate shelf and worried about: Kitty has that in spades. I didn’t blurb it because I was asked to. I was lucky enough to see a pre-publication draft, and I sent Keris a sequence of reaction emails overflowing with feels – from which that cover phrase was plucked. Other choice picks from that incisive, erudite correspondence include
I am mush. You have mushed me.
It made me cry four times.
the romance is my totally favourite bit and dude, that is never my totally favourite bit.
On the beach, in her bedroom, at the festival, at the end – there’s this utterly lovely mix of nerves and natural chemistry and it feels totally real and recognisable, in all the right ways. It’s a romance like any other (all that First Kiss Does She Like Me etc) of any new relationship AND a perfectly pitched first gay thing with all those added moments of Huh? – and that’s exactly what I was longing to read. What leaps off the page is how right they are together
(They should totally have put the ‘mushed’ line on the cover instead, right?)
So, yeah, hands up: I blurbed a book by my friend. But I hope you can tell that I meant it. If you know a 10-14 human who likes things that are good, please give them this book.
I bought my copy from Hive, which supports independent bookstores and home-delivers for free:
For more LGBTQ books for 8-12s, check out my Guardian Top Ten.