What draws you to a book? The title? Author? Genre? No matter how you answer, I don’t believe you. For most of us, we do judge a book by its cover.
The real question is: What draws you to a book cover?
Do you look for something you connect with – a person, image, color, shape?
A few years ago, writer Kate Hart compiled some disturbing statistics on covers in YA lit. She began with a response to a Wall Street Journal Article on the darkness of YA covers. What she uncovered bothered her more.
She found a disproportionate ratio of race gracing YA covers in 2011. Kate viewed hundreds of covers and found only a handful with nonwhite characters, none with visible disabilities, and one same-sex couple.
She thought exploring Indie covers would alter this scenario (simply because Indie authors have more say about their covers than those published by the big houses).
Not much to report there.
In the last 3 years how have things changed? I’d like to share my hard work with you on the topic, but I haven’t tempted this challenge. I will direct you to a GoodReads’ list. After viewing the first 100 of these popular 2013 YA books, I could not find a single character who was not white, was disabled or alluded to homosexuality. In fact, many covers showcased a symbol instead of a person.
So what’s it all mean? It may mean little to the avid reader, the young person who simply wants a good story and is not burdened with racial, gender or other equities.
My concern is that if we exclude whole classes of people, we deter a generation of readers, and we continue to support the myth that straight, capable white people are who matter in the world. I speak that phrase easily because I include myself in each of those categories.
However, as a mom, a teacher and an author, I feel it is my responsibility to share stories of all kinds of characters. Whether they are girls trying to exert their autonomy in a male-dominated home, or a boy figuring out how to come out to his best friends, we need diversity in literature. Every reader (and potential reader) needs to see herself on a cover, as a main character, as a hero. If writers are not diversifying these lists and bookshelves, who will? My next YA will feature a teen with a mental illness. How should I approach this on the cover?
Share below your favorite YA books that exemplify diversity.
If you want to continue this conversation, please join me Thursday, May 15, on Twitter at 6PM (PST) with Kate Tilton on #k8chat. We’ll be talking minorities in YA.