YA Blog

Rosie, the Canton Public Library's resident YA librarian, has thoughts about everything. Here are some of them. 

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Aug 21

Books Vs. Their Covers

Posted on August 21, 2021 at 1:10 PM by Matt Amory

I'm going to brag for a minute--I'm really good at not judging books by their covers. When I pick up a book to read for myself, I barely even glance at the cover, and only once in a blue moon have my opinions on the book as a whole been even a little affected by what it had on its cover.

But I do think that I am a special case, for a least a couple a reasons. The first being that I almost never just browse a stack of books and pick up ones that look interesting. I am a librarian. A big part of my job is to help maintain the book collection--specifically, the Young Adult book collection--at the Canton Public Library, which means it's up to me to decide which YA books we're going to buy and share with the public. There are thousands of new YA books published every year, and the library has not only a limited budget to spend on books but also a limited amount of shelf space on which to keep them. In order to make sure that I'm spending my money and shelf space on the best possible books that are going to be of real interest to my patrons, I have to read a lot of book reviews. A lot. Therefore, I almost never pick up a book to actually read unless I have already read two or three or five positive book reviews of it first. Similarly, people often (and rightly) assume that I like to talk about books, and patrons are always offering suggestions of what I should read next. I never pick up a book that hasn't been highly recommended, either by multiple reviews or people whose opinions I trust, so I never really care what the cover looks like. 

Secondly, I read a lot of ebooks, and listen to a lot of audiobooks. These things barely have covers. 

I do know that this is not how most people pick out books--especially teenagers, who are my main target audience. Book covers do matter to them, most of the time, and they do have the ability to contribute to the experience of reading a book. Readers waiting for a new book to be published by their favorite author are thrilled when the covers are released months before the book, and a cool cover might be all it takes to get someone to try what will turn into their new favorite story. Covers have the ability to matter, and even though I don't judge them when I'm reading for myself, I have to consider what the book likes like when I buy it for the library, or want to suggest it to a teenage patron to read. 

Today, we'll be taking a look at how some covers measure up to the books they're holding. 

 Eleanor and Parkby Rainbow Rowell
Winner: Book
Cover image for Eleanor & Park
Don't get me wrong, I think this is an adorable cover. Those are clearly Eleanor and Park, the main characters, and it makes perfect sense for them to be sitting next to each other, not touching, not looking at each other, wearing their own sets of headphones but still connected. Unfortunately, this simple cute cartoony all lowercase cover is not reflective of the story underneath. This is an intense book. The characters are bullied, and abused, threatened. They really struggle with self-worth, identity, connecting with others, and believing that the future can hold anything better. The book is beautifully written and incredibly emotional and powerful--the cover is cute. This book is a thousand times better than the cover. 


 I kind of love this cover. It takes place in the real world, but the part of the world that is inhabited by (male and female) witches. "Black" witches are bad, and are hunted by the good "white" witches in control of the witch government-type organization. Nathan's mother was a white witch, and his father is one of the worst black witches of all time. The cover is perfect for the premise: the bold words--one white, one black--almost at odds with each other; the boy's face ominously intriguingly appropriately created by swirls of blood; the grayness of the background (where everything can't be just black or white). Love this cover. The story just didn't measure up. This could have been a cool world, with complicated characters. The premise was more compelling than the story, and there was no depth to the setting or people, no subtly or nuance. The worst part: it ended on a cliffhanger, but I just don't care what happens next. The cover was way more interesting that the book.Half Bad, by Sally Green 
Winner: Cover
Cover image for Half bad 

 Isla and the Happily Ever After,
 by Stephanie Perkins 

Winner: Book  
Cover image for Isla and the happily ever after : a novel
 This cover is so boring it makes me want to cry, which is especially tragic because the book actually did make me cry, but in a good way. It's the last in a series that just kept getting better. Read them in order and you won't be disappointed. Just a glance at each cover is all you need. 

 This is the kind of book you're supposed to read on a dark winter night, curled up with a cup of hot chocolate. It's supposed to make you think, and to give you feelings. I think the cover does a good job making me want to give it shot--dark lonely winter, a little mysterious, a little bit shiny. The blurb says, "A beguiling and beautifully written tale of first love and heartbreak." Ok--that's the kind of book I want to read! But this is not that book. This is not that book at all. The characters were flat and unlikable, the mystery was unsatisfying, the plot and voices unbelievable. Gaze at the pretty cover for a minute, then read Thirteen Reasons Why instead (or The Golden Compass, if what you're after is something wintery).  The Tragedy Paper,
  by Elizabeth LaBan

Winner: Cover
Cover image for The Tragedy Paper

 Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Winner: Book 
Cover image for Cinder
 This is painful for me to say, because I actually think this cover is really cool. But the book is awesome. There is just so much to like--cyborgs, mind controlling aliens, sarcastic main characters, lovable android sidekicks, imminent war, mysterious plague, action and chaos and smart teenagers and a touch of romance and fairy tale elements turned on their heads. The whole series is like that--engaging and exciting and in a wonderfully developed world that keeps getting better. The cover is pretty smart--it's a fairy tale but with a pretty heavy duty sci-fi twist. I just wish it was a little less girly, because the story really can appeal to all kinds of science fiction fans. 

 Here is an example of a cover that makes readers want to pick up to the book, and boy does the story inside deliver. The cover is bright, eye catching, and interesting, but with darkness creeping in from the corners. Who is this person, and why is she alone? There's something just a little bit sinister about the whole scene, but it's hard to say where that feeling comes from, which definitely sets the mood for the whole experience of reading this gripping, emotional, smart book. All kinds of readers--kids and adults, male and female, science fiction/mystery/thriller/romance lovers, and a million more--will absolutely tear through this book and come out breathless on the other side.  The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey
Winner: Everyone!
Cover image for The 5th Wave

 Requiem, by Lauren Oliver
Winner: No one
Cover image for Requiem
 This is a bad cover and a worse book. I have never been a fan of the Giant Face club that so many YA books just have to belong to these days, and this one is particularly bad. What is that expression she's making? What's in the background, roses? What do they have to do with anything, anyway? And who is this even supposed to be? Lena, that main character of the series? If it is, that is not how I pictured her at all. But this cover would have to be a hundred times worse to reflect how disappointing the inside is. After a strong first book and a meh-but-at-least-surprising second, I was hoping that the final would live up to the potential of the series. Without spoiling anything: it did not. It was by far the weakest in the series, where characters making baffling decisions, the ending didn't make sense, and nothing really seemed to happen.