August 30


Cover Reveal of Love, Ish by Karen Rivers

Rivers Love, IshI am on vacation. Outside, the wind pushes the trees toward the tent, scraping long branches across the nylon wall. The strait roils and heaves, smashing breakers on the sandstone shore. On the small screen of my phone, an e-mail pings.


An image.


A cover.


On the cover, a girl with red hair stands facing away from me, balanced on a blue-and-green Earth, staring up at the red glow of Mars. A white bird flies toward a belt of stars. The colors are dark and rich and vibrant and alive.


The cover is so beautiful that for reasons I can’t fully explain, I start to cry. “It’s perfect,” I type to my editor. “Thank you.”


I stare at the cover for ages. “Look,” I want to say to everyone. “Just look. Isn’t it amazing?”


I am amazed.


The work of writing is to carve sculptures out of huge blocks of nothingness, to pull out of the air actual people, to conjure up emotional responses to made-up events, building it all layer by layer into a finished piece that one can only hope becomes just as real to the person reading it as it was when you wrote it.


And then? Then you let it go, much like how in the story behind this cover, the main character, Ish, lets her white parrot fly free so he can see what true flight is really like.


Sometimes when you let a book go, someone else sees something in it that you didn’t know was there; sometimes the cover fits awkwardly, like a pair of too-wide shoes. Other times—like in this instance—the cover fits as though it were there the whole time, as though it were informing the story all along.


When I saw the cover of Love, Ish, I knew that it was exactly right, the wistful punctuation mark at the end of the dreamlike sentence that is the story of Mischa Love and her journey—not to Mars, as she would have liked, but rather to love. Julie McLaughlin (who also did the cover for my previous novel, The Girl in the Well Is Me) saw the book the same way that I did, which feels like such a wonderful gift.


The cover speaks of wistfulness and longing and escape, the kind of escape that we all long for at times. Magical escape. It shrinks the Earth itself down to just another planet, opening the door for so many possibilities. If Earth is just this, then why not that? Or that?


For me, personally, the idea of actually leaving Earth to colonize Mars seems terrifying, no lie. My personal escapes have always happened safely within the covers of novels, both mine and those written by others. But I understand the yearning; I relate to the desire to be anywhere but here.


Mischa Love wants to escape; that’s the premise of the novel. Mischa Love specifically wants to escape this mess of an Earth and start over on Mars.


She wants to be first.


She wants to be important.


She wants to be remembered.


And she also wants to disappear.


The first hideaway that I made was in the closet in my bedroom. Instead of using it to hang clothes, I removed everything and added a small lamp, a box of books, a blanket, and a pile of pillows. While my sisters played and fought and lived outside the closet door, I huddled down in the dim light and made my small escapes. Novel after novel, book after book. I read myself around the world and then beyond it. I read as far as Mars and then further. I vanished into the world behind the wardrobe. I read indiscriminately. Adult books, age-appropriate books, books about people like me, books about people who were nothing like me at all. I didn’t care, I just I knew that with every book that I read, I stepped a little bit further outside myself. In my closet, I crossed the Atlantic on tall ships. I lived alone in a house in Sweden. I went on adventures with my four closest friends. I solved mysteries. I fell in love. There was nothing that I couldn’t or wouldn’t dare to do.


I remember much of what I read when I was twelve years old, more so probably than any other age. It was a tricky year for me, the first year of junior high. A falling out with my best friend had meant that I faced a daunting gantlet of kids every day, all alone. I needed books more than ever. I needed a safe place to go. I needed answers. I needed to figure out how to ask the questions. To this day, I think that books saved me. Not only did I find myself in them, I found so many hundreds of other people who weren’t like me at all but whom I genuinely liked. In real life, it was much harder to see who was who, to tell who was waiting to trip me in the stairwell or who wanted to accept my friendship. People sometimes let me down. But books? Books never did.


When I begin another novel, when I start with someone who is, as I was then, twelve, I go back time and time again to those years. Twelve to me is both terrifying and incredible. There is so much power in twelve, as well as so much dependence on others. There is so much magic left, the kind that fades quickly as the teen years encroach. And there is also so much fear and so much uncertainty. Who am I? Who am I going to be? Am I OK?

I write middle grade because I want to answer that last question for my readers, curled up in their closets, reading by the dim bulb of a garage sale table lamp. Yes, I want to say. Yes, you are. You? You are definitely OK. You are more than OK. You’re amazing.


I take one last look at the cover before I stop typing, before I put my phone back in my backpack for another day. No matter how many times I look, it’s still perfect, it’s still exactly what I hoped it would be.


Thank you, Nerdy Book Club, for helping me share this gorgeous piece of art with the world! I will be at NCTE in November with ARCs of Love, Ish, so please come and see me at the Workman/AYR booth.


Rivers Girl in the WellKaren Rivers has written novels for adult, middle-grade, and young adult audiences. Her books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usually be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds. You can find her online at or on Twitter: @karenrivers. Love, Ish will be on sale in March 2017.