You Are One of Them

You Are One of Them

(The Penguin Press, 2013)

Shortly after I sold my manuscript to the brilliant Andrea Walker at the Penguin Press, she asked me what sort of book covers I liked and whether I had any thoughts about the cover of my own book. I’m not an art director, but I told her that one of the book’s central images might inspire the designers.

In the first chapter, the narrator, Sarah Zuckerman, describes watching home movies with her parents, and when the projector overheats, the film melts, creating a dark blot that spreads across the screen while they watch. Sarah observes, “[I]t was as if our past were being annihilated right in front of us.” The image is a metaphor for nuclear war, of course, but also for memory. So I told Andrea that I hoped the designers would consider playing with that image. I pictured a cover with a partially burned photograph. A photograph of what, I didn’t know.

The jacket that Janet Hansen designed is better than anything I imagined. When I opened the PDF from Andrea, I was thrilled. (This is the only version I ever saw; my agent and I both thought it was a “slam dunk.”) The tone of Hansen’s cover design matches the book perfectly: it’s mysterious and a little melancholy. I love the palette (olive green and gold) and elegant font. (That’s the font in which I see my name in my head—that sounds sort of crazy, but it’s true.) I love that the photograph is of a Moscow subway car (though it doesn’t matter if readers don’t know that) and I love that the dark blot covers the top half of the woman’s face. I even love that the woman is wearing a trench coat. It gives the book a timeless feel and hints at espionage. (This book is not a spy thriller, but it plays with spy tropes because the narrator thinks she’s in a spy story for a while.) And the embossing on the finished book is stunning. I run my fingers over it and count my lucky stars that my novel has such a beautiful jacket. It’s a work of art.

Elliott Holt, author

It was a pleasure to read Elliott Holt’s debut novel You Are One of Them and an honor to have had the opportunity to design this cover. The book depicts the relationship between two girls growing up in the politically-charged 1980s. Taking place in both the United States and USSR, much of the novel is filled with a tone of mystery and propaganda. I was immediately hooked and excited to start designing.

Before we started working on this, the author had suggested that we take a look at an excerpt from the very first chapter. It describes Sarah Zuckerman, the narrator of the novel, watching a home movie with her parents on an old projector. The projector heats up, burning the film and erasing the only moving memories of her late sister. I agreed with Holt, and thought using the visual of burnt film was a great way to marry two major themes of the novel: mystery and Cold War rhetoric.

And so the fun began, and things were set on fire…

  BurnedPaper3 BurnedPaper1

Design options were explored, and there was one other approach I was keen on. But I think the tone may have been a bit off…

holt alt

I knew I wanted to use a photograph of a girl traveling in Russia, and after looking at a bunch of research…



…I came across Martin Adolfsson’s photograph of a girl riding the train in Moscow.

Woman Looking Through The Window Of A Subway Car, Moscow, Russia.

I knew right away that it would be perfect for the book. It has a sort of timeless feel, and the use of this girl on the train combined with the burnt image hiding her identity evoked the mystery this novel so dramatically unveils.

On a side note, this cover was one of the smoothest cover approvals I have ever had!

Janet Hansen, designer

I had no idea that my image ended up on the cover of Elliott’s book. I guess it was licensed through Gallery Stock, who handles my archive images.

The image was taken in Moscow in August 2009 while I was there to work on my book Suburbia Gone Wild. I remember getting of the subway train together with my assistant. As the doors closed behind us, I turned around and saw this beautiful girl looking at me very intensely through the train window. Luckily the camera was in my hand, and I managed to capture the moment before the train picked up speed and disappeared into the tunnel.

Martin Adolfsson, photographer

One comment

  1. Love the concept of this blog…there are so many hidden stories in a book cover! I work in a library, so I see many books every day, and now I will have the opportunity to learn more about their jackets. Thank you!

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