Cover Reveal: Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer
“Show, don’t tell.” It’s one of those bits of advice that’s been drilled into everyone who’s taken Creative Writing 101: the best writing demonstrates what a character is thinking, instead of telling the reader. I think it’s great advice.
This time, though, maybe I’ve taken it a little too far?
After writing three YA books in which human protagonists develop bonds with apes (Endangered, Threatened, and Rescued), in the final book in the quartet (Orphaned, Fall ‘18), I’ve taken the plunge and switched to an ape’s point-of-view. As much as I can, I’ve avoided anthropomorphizing it. I’ve tried to maintain Snub’s essential ape-ness as I tell the story of a nine-year-old gorilla, yearning to experience the world beyond her family and its familiar stretches of jungle. She’s also living 600,000 years ago—when gorillas had their first fateful meeting with early humans.
Snub doesn’t speak, and she doesn’t really have a sense of future and past. She has no language for events—like volcanic explosions—that she hasn’t experienced before. I’ve told her story in imagistic poetry, trying to use the white space to remind us about everything that’s unknowable about the gorilla even as I try to prove how many emotions we share with her. Her external behavior was the only tool I had to convey that. While I was writing, I often wished that Snub could pause and say to her gorilla family “you know, I noticed ___. I think we should ___.” I never realized how much I usually rely on dialogue until it was taken away. Losing a major tool in the writer toolkit pushed me in new directions, though, and led to a novel that feels unlike any I’ve written.
Since I had nothing to do with it, will you let me gush over the cover for a second? I love that Elizabeth Parisi, the designer, has managed to capture a very specific gorilla expression here. Those eyes are haunting; in them I can see both worry and tenderness. There’s mystery in those eyes, too. Apes are so closely related to us that they’re a great middle ground to test our perceptions about what separates us from the animal world. This picture of Snub makes me want to hold her, but it also unnerves me. That Parisi chose to picture Snub without any greenery in the background adds to the cover’s unsettling quality, I think.
I’ve long been a fan of the Nerdy Book Club—I’m so grateful you let me share Orphaned’s cover for the first time here.
Eliot Schrefer’s first three books in this quartet, Endangered, Threatened, and Rescued, count among them two finalists for the National Book Award, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, two winners of the Green Earth Book Award, selection to the Amelia Bloomer List for best feminist works for young readers, and praise from Dr. Jane Goodall as being “moving, fascinating, and eye-opening.” Schrefer is also the author of The School for Dangerous Girls, The Deadly Sister, two novels in the Spirit Animals series, and other books for children and adults. When he’s not off somewhere hanging out with apes, he lives in New York City. Connect with Eliot at eliotschrefer.com.