Last year, I did two posts that explored diverse YA book covers. I wanted to see those covers featuring people of color prominently and obviously. After paying attention for those posts, it’s a thing I’ve kept an eye on as more 2016 YA book covers have been revealed. I’ve collected the covers fitting “diverse” in that they feature people who aren’t white in a way that makes it obvious they are not white.
All of the 2016 YA book covers haven’t yet been revealed yet, and there’s always the possibility that some covers previously revealed will be redesigned. But so far, 2016 is looking to be like a real let down when it comes to racial diversity on YA covers.
There is not one single — not one single — interracial couple on a YA book cover for 2016.+
But what’s really frustrating about seeing this isn’t just that there are not interracial couples depicted on 2016 YA covers yet. It’s that I can only think of one single YA book featuring an interracial couple at all, and that’s Sarah McCarry’s About A Girl cover. Granted, there are not a lot of YA covers that feature couples, period, but when you see a sea of boats and white-with-white couples, this absence becomes obvious. There are interracial couples in YA books and more, there are interracial couples in real teen life. Why aren’t we seeing that on covers?*
I suspect it’s asking a lot or expecting a lot, since the field of people of color on YA book covers is, itself, a thing that merits attention because it’s novel. The growth of flat design and illustration-driven covers clearly plays a part in this, too — I’ve spoken pretty openly about my dislike of the illustration trend because I find it kind of boring and monotonous, and I think it’s also been a convenient way for diversity on covers to be ignored further. Getting away from people on covers isn’t bad, but when they then become merely shadowy figures, what does that say about a commitment to showcasing reality? It’s like slapping sunglasses on Asian models on covers so they appear more white than they are (and yes, this is a thing — would you know she’s supposed to be Korean if you didn’t know from the book’s description?).
Can we do better though? This is reality. And seeing nothing but white couples on covers is a lie to reality and it’s a lie to the richness in YA as it stands now. I would love to highlight at least one, if not two, YA books featuring interracial couples from traditional publishers in 2016. We don’t tend to do cover reveals here, but I would do one in a heartbeat for a book like that, especially if it’s by an author of color. To suggest these books “don’t sell” or “don’t do well” because of “the market” is bullshit. They don’t do well because they’re not even being put out there TO do well. And when they are put out there, they aren’t given marketing budgets. Or they’re books written by white people who get a person of color on the cover and thus, money and attention. This is what our readers are looking for — our readers are primarily gate keepers who serve diverse teens and they deserve to know about these books in this way.
Here’s a round-up of the YA covers from major publishers (as well as some of the smaller traditional ones!) featuring people of color on them as seen so far for 2016. Descriptions are from Goodreads. Let me know if I’ve missed any big ones in the comments, and please, I want to know: what YA covers featuring interracial couples can you think of? Are there any beyond the one that McCarry advocated for on her own?**
Little White Lies by Brianna Baker and F. Bowman Hastie III (Soho Teen, February 9)***
Seventeen-year-old honors student Coretta White’s Tumblr, Little White Lies–a witty commentary on race and current events, as well as an exposé of her brilliant-yet-clueless parents–has just gone viral. She’s got hundreds of thousands of followers; she’s even been offered a TV deal. But Coretta has a confession: she hasn’t been writing her
own posts. Overwhelmed with the stress of keeping up with her schoolwork and applying for colleges, she has secretly hired a forty-one-year-old ghostwriter named Karl Ristoff to help her with the Tumblr. His contributions have helped make it a sensation, but unable to bear the guilt, Coretta eventually confesses the scandalous truth to a select
few to free herself of the burden.
The fallout is almost instantaneous. Before she knows it, her reputation has been destroyed. The media deal disappears. Even her boyfriend breaks up with her. Then Karl is thrust into the limelight, only to suffer a precipitous fall himself. Ultimately, the two join forces to find out who is responsible for ruining both of their lives . . . someone who might even have had the power to fuel their success in the first place. And to exact justice and a clever revenge, they must truly come clean to each other.
Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis (Knopf, February 9)***
In this new YA novel by Tanita S. Davis, the Coretta Scott King Honor author of Mare’s War, a white teen named Dess is placed into foster care with a black family while her mother is incarcerated.
The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters (Amulet, March 8)
1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.
The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.
Flawed by Cecelia Ahern (Feiwel and Friends, April 5)
Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.
But then Celestine encounters a situation where she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule. And now faces life-changing repercussions.
She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.
The Skylighter by Becky Wallace (Margaret K McElderry/S&S, March 22)
Johanna and Rafi are in a race against time to save their country before a power-mad Keeper destroys everything they hold dear in the “enthralling magical world” (Cinda Williams Chima, author of The Heir Chronicles) introduced in The Storyspinner.
As the last of the royal line, Johanna is the only person who can heal a magical breach in the wall that separates her kingdom of Santarem from the land of the Keepers, legendary men and women who wield elemental magic. The barrier protects Santarem from those Keepers who might try to take power over mere humans…Keepers who are determined to stop Johanna and seize the wall’s power for themselves.
And they’re not the only ones. As the duchys of Santarem descend into war over the throne, Johanna relies more than ever on the advice of her handsome companion, Lord Rafael DeSilva. But Rafi is a duke too, and his people come first. As their friendship progresses into the beginnings of a tender relationship, Johanna must wonder: is Rafi looking out for her happiness, or does he want the throne for himself?
With war on the horizon, Johanna and Rafi dodge treacherous dukes and Keeper assassins as they race to through the countryside, determined to strengthen the wall before it’s too late…even if it means sacrificing their happiness for the sake of their world.
Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki (Roaring Brook, April 19)***
Montgomery Sole is a square peg in a small town, forced to go to a school full of jocks and girls who don’t even know what irony is. It would all be impossible if it weren’t for her best friends, Thomas and Naoki. The three are also the only members of Jefferson High’s Mystery Club, dedicated to exploring the weird and unexplained, from ESP and astrology to super powers and mysterious objects.
Then there’s the Eye of Know, the possibly powerful crystal amulet Monty bought online. Will it help her predict the future or fight back against the ignorant jerks who make fun of Thomas for being gay or Monty for having two moms? Maybe the Eye is here just in time, because the newest resident of their small town is scarier than mothmen, poltergeists, or, you know, gym.
Mirage by Tracy Clark (HMH, July 5)
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Poitier Sharpe is a gutsy, outgoing girl who spends her summer days hurling herself out of planes at her parents’ skydiving center in the Mojave Desert. Fiercely independent and willing to take risks, she challenges those around her to live life fully. But after a brush with death, Ryan is severely altered—she’s not the same thrill-seeking girl she once was and seems to be teetering on the edge of psychosis. As her relationships crumble and her life unravels, Ryan must fight the girl she’s become—or lose herself forever—in this eerie and atmospheric thriller.
So it turns out there is a list on Goodreads of YA and Middle Grade titles with POC lead characters, too. Here’s the link — and while maybe if you squint you can tell some of the YA titles include a person of color on the cover. . . I’m still completely underwhelmed.
*I realized after writing this, there is a second YA book I can think of with an interracial couple on the cover. That would be the paperback iteration of Una LaMarche’s Like No Other. Because the hardcover is illustrated and the characters have their backs to the reader, it’s not possible to tell.
**Sarah McCarry is white and thus has some sway in what she wants to happen in a way that minority authors wouldn’t have. Were she a woman of color advocating for a cover like the one she was able to get, I’m not sure she would have been as fortunate.
***These books are also written by readily identifiable authors of color. So fewer than half. Come on.