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Throwback Thursday: Romancing the YA Cover Art

Editor’s note: Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star took home a Coretta Scott King Award on Sunday at the ALA Youth Media Awards. Long before these laurels, Yoon was a bestselling author whose iconic cover design launched scores of imitators—something Dan Kraus noticed long before anyone else. This post was originally published on August 31, 2016.

Some book cover trends are easy: “Hey, this photo of a girl in a ballroom gown drowning in water was popular? Well, let’s try 38 more of them!” These trends can be attributed largely to genre, because genre has typical trappings, and trappings are signals, and signals penetrate our puny human brains so that the right people pick up the right books. We are boringly predictable.

The proposition is more difficult when the book’s signifiers aren’t so bold. What I’m concerned with here are the occasional sales-shattering YA romances that strangle the bestseller list once every few years. Now, these are subtle trends. To see them, you gotta have vision. And, as master thespian Jack Black said in the deathless classic School of Rock, “I’ve got vision up the butt.”

The immediate post-Fault in Our Stars landscape seethed, like mice from an oceanbound plank, with publishers striving to transmit desperate messages that their new book would be totally perfect for John Green fans. Who could blame them? If they could snag even 3% of his readers, they might have a (normal-sized) bestseller on their hands. Thus, a cavalcade of pairing bold colors with hand-drawn fonts that bend around shapes. We could sit here and provide examples all day—heck, we could send you to Etsy—but here’s something to jog your memory.

FIOS collage

After this came Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. Look at that mannered lettering. Look at the quirky sketches of our paramours. Look at all that empty space. Plenty to latch onto here, and latch the publishers did.

E&P collage

The latest author to claim the heartfelt romantic YA crown in Nicola Yoon. Sensing a good thing, her publisher has art-ified her second book, The Sun Is Also a Star, in the same mold as her debut, Everything, Everything. This one must have had rival jacket designers scratching their heads. What do you do with an Easter-egg color palette—and that’s about it? Well, it’s simple: you design books with an Easter-egg color palette—and that’s it. Behold!

Yoon collage 1

Yoon collage 2

Some of these soft-filter covers, you might agree, border on the illegible. Still, they transmit a certain kind of romantic feel, don’t they? Something dreamy, melancholy, and/or wistful. They certainly feel like inspirational than the Fault covers, and less playful than the Eleanor covers. Maybe it’s bittersweet tears that smeared all those watercolors.



About the Author:

Dan Kraus was Booklist's Editor of Books for Youth. He is also the producer and director of numerous feature films, most notably the documentary Work Series, and the author of several YA novels, including Rotters and Scowler, both of which won the Odyssey Award. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielDKraus.

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