Tereza Dobra

Of Easy Girls and Book Covers

In the Fifties, what a girl wore branded her as Easy or Good.

Good Girls wore bobby socks and saddle shoes. Easy Girls wore ballerina slippers and ankle bracelets. They had pierced ears. A Good Girl clasped a charm bracelet on her wrist and a circle pin on the side of her collar that indicated she was a virgin. (I could never remember what side that was.) A Good Girl wore her boyfriend’s letter sweater, an Easy Girl her guy’s leather jacket with a tight skirt and sweater.

Good Girls could get away with form-fitting sweaters, but skirts had to be loose enough to slip easily over hips and butt. Calf-length circle skirts with crinolines underneath were great for jitterbugging because they swished and swooshed when you did. For all the talk of poodle skirts, I never had one. I did know someone who had a battery-rigged skirt with a felt appliqué Christmas tree. She’d squeeze a bulb and the tree lights would come on.

Good Girls aimed to convey a kind of sexy innocence. From their point of view, Easy Girls were too obvious. They didn’t leave themselves the option of virtuous outrage if a boy made an unwanted move on them. With the way they dressed and held themselves, they would have been “asking for it.” Girls were schooled early in this way of thinking. In Stony River, Tereza Dobra knows exactly what she’s doing when she struts around in short shorts and a tight sweater.

That understanding made me initially flinch at the cover design for Stony River. It’s gorgeous and evocative of the era, all right. But in that era, many would have considered the model’s pose a sexual invitation. Would readers think that’s what the book was about? I checked with others. Those who reacted with sentiments like “whoa” were either my vintage or had read the manuscript and were expecting something darker. Younger ones found the cover beautiful and compelling. “I’d pluck it off of a table of other books first,” one said, and wasn’t that the idea?

I reconsidered the cover from a more modern perspective: why couldn’t you lie with arms behind your head and legs drawn up without someone judging you as asking for it? When I realized that my character, Miranda, whom the model resembles, would have no understanding of what provocative meant and could easily picture herself lying “on soft grass, garbed in gossamer and sunlight,” it felt right. Now, I can’t imagine Stony River with anything but this cover.

Stony River goes on sale July 24. For suggestions on what to wear on book club night, see Dress the Part on the Flashback page.