I took my eleven year old daughter to the Half-Price bookstore today. She already knew which book she wanted before we arrived, Eragon by Paolini. We had a copy of it somewhere around the house from when my twenty-one year old read it many years ago but we couldn’t find it. Even though she already had her book choice in hand, we freely browsed the “teen book” section for other potentially interesting titles. My eldest daughter, nineteen years old, also along for the ride, decided on a whim to randomly choose books to pull from the shelf. She would read the title then show me the cover. She did this with about ten books before finding one that seemed unique.
What made that eleventh book unique? It did not feature the ethereally glowing face of a pretty white girl (PWG).
I imagine that this is what sells, books with pictures on the cover of thin, wispy, fair-skinned beauties, especially in this Twilight era, but who are they selling to? While on the face of it there is nothing wrong with a cover that features a white girl, the absolute overabundance of these covers says many things to this mother of two dark-skinned daughters.
- Your daughters aren’t beautiful enough to feature in stories nor to grace the covers of YA books.
- The interesting stories don’t include girls who don’t fit the cookie cutter mold.
- Publishers and authors don’t care enough about “the rest of us” to make the effort at providing lasting literature that is inclusive. (By the rest of us, I mean short girls, chubby girls, Asian girls, Black girls…)
- Something must be done about this.
What’s worse is that when grouped together none of these covers stands out as unique or interesting. Is this a reflection of publishing, the writers, or the readers? Perhaps all? And if so, what the hell is going? Have we become a nation of dumb drones?
My nineteen year old, an artist, has said on many occasions that she likes “different” faces. She means the faces that are slightly imbalanced or that have a unique feature. I couldn’t agree with her more.
The thing that bothers me most however, is not the message these covers send me, but the message it may send my eleven year old, and any girl her age or older for that matter. She is at a most precarious age where her reading level has far surpassed her level of maturity and sophistication. The subtle and not so subtle messages these monotonous covers sends is dangerous and downright injurious to her sense of self. If the covers can potentially do such damage, then how could I even trust the content? If the covers are all essentially the same, can’t I make that same judgement about the content of the book itself?
The covers, I suppose, have their place as part of the whole. But these PWG covers don’t appear to be part of the whole, but instead pretty much the whole shebang. I know that I am not supposed to but, I judge books by their covers. And since publishing obviously feels that they can make more sales with the PWG on the cover, then apparently most of America does too.
These aren’t the kinds of girls walking the halls of your local high school. The girls at the local high school aren’t all 102 lbs with glossy red ringlets and flawless alabaster skin. Put the girl from the local high school on the cover of a YA book and that is the first step toward convincing me to crack the cover to see what the book is about.
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