Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some of the Best YA Novel Covers in Recent Times- Part 1

I continue writing about YA. Home Sweet Home.

Today, I'm reviewing some of the best YA covers of recent times. Not all of them turned out to be great books, but I discovered sometimes a book can be judged by it's cover and other times, you'll be cheated out of your wits. However, i maintain cover design is an art in itself and needs to be reviewed and celebrated just like books.

1. The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

This was not a good book. It blurb drew me in, but as it turns out, it lacked the one thing that makes a YA romance worth reading- likeable characters. But in my opinion, the cover is awesome. It almost looks like an alternate poster for 500 Days of Summer (fantastic film) and when I saw it, I thought it was about the different seasons in a relationship- the warm summery beginnings, the chilly fights, the autumn of separation and fragrant spring of rediscovering each other.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I explained this in my previous post, but if you haven't read it, here we go again. Diane Arbus was a photographer famous for capturing the creepiest, most intriguing photographs that you make you want look away and stare on at the same time.  The photo on the upper right corner has that Diane Arbus quality. It's pushed to the far corner, which what being a wallflower is all about. The face is not shown, so it's a reference the anonymity Charlie wants. Green is an interesting choice of color, especially with the fluorescent  undertone. Hands down, one of the best YA covers of all time.

3. School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

This looks like a cover for a graphic novel. The shield in the centre reminds me of the Harry Potter houses. This is not a cover full of symbolism. In fact, it's pretty straightforward. But I think this kind of artwork needs to be made a lot more common in YA, especially for fantasy or dystopia. It's got some wonderful use of light and shadow, a lot of artwork packed into the small cover and it tells the reader exactly what the story is about and who it's for. But the white swan is in front of the dark palace and the dark swan in front of the white palace, and I'm asking myself what that's all about. It's the kind of book cover that's attract girls who have read all the Harry Potter books and are now looking for more. 

3. Elanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Simple. Tender. Beautiful. I will say no more.

4. Jewel of the Thames (A Portia Adams Adventure) by Angela Misri

Lovely. That's one word for it. Sometimes, simple is good, like in Elanor and Park, but in this case the ornamental swirls and black-blue-white color scheme simply work. The lack of oestrogen was what didn't draw me to Sherlock Holmes, but here I have a girl in a Holmesesque cap and magnifying glass and Baker Street in the background. We need more covers like this, covers with ornamental artwork. This book wood look fantastic on my book shelf and I'd position it so that the cover and not the spine faces outwards. It's like room decoration.

5. My True Love Gave To Me by Various Authors

I've never read this book, but I'm trying to get my hands on a copy. It's got all my favorite writers' work in it. It may not turn out to be great, but I'm still buying it for the cover. I mean, look at it! It's adorable! And I've heard the skaters on the cover are characters from the book, which makes me feel like it's Christmas in February.

Good ol' YA Covers Gone Bad

There are way too many books in this world and it's impossible to read them all. You've got to draw the line somewhere. I drew the line, making Young-Adult literature my literary home. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy my vacations in other genres. It just means that no matter where I go, I always find my way back home.

Recently, I've seen some very disturbing trends in YA book covers. I mean, if YA is my home, it's no wonder I'm concerned about the exterior. Here I've listed the top 5 trends that are making me want to give my home some serious renovations.

1. The first disturbing trend is the way novels targeted at younger audiences are slowly getting trendier and more minimalistic. Hey! Minimalism is for adults. Kids want bulky, bright, colorful, detailed illustrations. They’re cute! Don’t replace them with simpler, more symbolic and more minimal drawings, alright? Let’s take for example, the Harry Potter books. I’ve read the first four and the last two (I always keep missing Order of Pheonix), and it’s one of those books I’ve learnt to appreciate without being a die-hard fan. But I was a fan of the early covers. The picture of Harry standing at platform 9 3/4 or riding a Hippogriff drew me before I even knew what the book was about. But then, the publishers made the unforgivable mistake of changing the covers to suit modern sensibilities.

Prisoner of Azkaban when I was a kid
One of the newer editions.

It’s not bad. It’s just that the ten-year-old version of me would like the first one better. Some people say cover designs have been changed because tons of HP fans are adults now, and the newer covers make them look less childish if they were to read the book in public. The books have adult' editions too. I guess I understand that, but HP is a memory for most people, and I believe memories stay stronger if you visit them often  and leave them unchanged.

2. The next disturbing trend is the black book covers. This is for the Twilight and Vampire Diaries set. Dear novel, I understand you’re supposed to be dark and mysterious but a little bit of color wouldn’t hurt.

I actually liked this series a lot, because Ethan Wate was
my fantasy boyfriend. Even if you were scarred by Twilight,
don't hesitate to check this out. And don't be fooled by the black.
I personally would've chosen olive green, with a man standing
 beyond a stretch of wild trees.

Never read this series, so I can't suggest an
alternative, but my point still stands.

Besides, is it just me, or are these covers a little bit un-creative. I mean, having a black cover with minimal imagery for a mysterious dark fantasy YA novel is like wearing bright red lipstick and sticking your tongue out in a ‘sexy’ photoshoot. It’s cliché and even a child with no artistic skills can think of it. None of these covers are ugly (especially Twilight, a series in which the covers speak a hundred times more than the novels), but they are boring. Cover designers, it’s not that hard. Pick out something from the novel, think of the same illustration in a less common color like blood red or magenta and voila! You have yourself a much more interesting covers.

3. Now, the next one is understandable, if not justifiable. A lot of YA novels achieve worldwide fame post their film adaptations. So, I get it that publishers want to replace the original book covers with the movie posters to draw more readers. After all, we live in an era in which people watch the movie first and then read the book. However, this is sacrilege! You see, books are wonderful! They leave so much to the imagination while telling us more about the characters than a movie ever could. And the best part is that the characters are people like you and me, not young, pretty, shiny movie stars wearing 8 kilos of make-up and designer clothes designed to look like everyday clothes. So when you introduce Hollywood/ Bollywood into the cover, it loses it’s innocence. Less is left for the imagination and well, the movie industry can never truly be as sweet, innocent and creative as the book illustration industry (hoping that really is an industry).

Let’s take the example of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, one of my favourite books of all times. Chbosky even directed the movie and even though I had my issues with the adaptation, it was much better than most YA adaptations. The original cover was like this:
Is this a great cover, or what? The photo on the upper right
corner is reminiscent of the works of photographer Diane
Arbus (go check her out now!) and the fact that it's pushed to
the far corner is what being a wallflower is all about. Plus, you only
see the feet which is symbolic of the anonymity Charlie wants
in the book. The green in an interesting choice of color and this is
one YA novel cover that won't embarass you in public by being too
childish. One of the best covers of all times.

And then they Hollywood-ized it.

So here I have Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller staring out at me, and the moment I see it, my head gets filled with thoughts of the Harry Potter movies, who EW is dating right now, Miller’s alternative lifestyle and the Percy Jackson films. That’s because I see the actors, not the characters. Trust me,  that’s a bad thing.

Now, I was never a fan of Twilight, but I liked the covers. In the original cover of the first book, a pale hand holds out a bright red apple, and to me it was symbolic of temptation and lust. The Hollwood version of the cover is basically Edward and Bella looking tortured and bored, which is what made the books bad and the movies even worse.

Even Bollywood won’t leave books alone. Here’s 2 States, and it’s not YA, but I still think the original cover was much better.
Not a great work of art, but better than what came next.

While we're here, let me just point out that Miss Bhatt
was seriously, seriously pretty in this movie.

4. The ‘Big Poofy Dress’ trend is slowly making reasonably girly YA look like hard-core chicklit. All the cover has is a slender girl wearing a big, poofy, princess-y gown. Sometimes the face is cut out, blurred, or the heroine has her back turned to the reader. The trend has variations such as ‘Big Poofy Mask’ (most commonly seen in novels with a masquerade ball or blind date or something). You know what the worst part is? The whole skinny girl in princess gown thing wouldn’t be so bad if it were a hand-drawn illustration or a played with the graphics a little bit.
Classic 'Big Poofy Dress' Cliche. If it were me, I'd have
a dozen handsoutstretched to wear a ring, and one
jewelry box with a ring in the centre. At least that's what
I would've done given my limited knowledge about this book.

This cover shows what the book is about and the dress isn't poofy.
However, it's not as good as it could have been. Besides, I did notpicture Anna like the girl on the cover. If I were designing this
cover, I would have gone for a darker silhouette in a creepy house (the hero)
with the girl shown here in the background, hovering menacingly behind
our hero, but not making the cover all about her.

An alternate of this is the 'Six Pack Abs' trend. Yeah, that doesn't work for me either.

5. Now comes the biggest tragedy of all─ the stock photo trend. Basically, some cover artists are way too lazy to design a cover. So what do they do? They fish out a random photo from the Internet and type in the name in the first font they can find and Photoshop it a little bit. Come on! You get paid for this. Don’t do something even I could do. It makes me feel sorry for you, and most of you paid a lot of money to go to art school and it’s a pity if this is how you put your education to use.
The same image later appeared as the cover
of another book, but the digital enhancements
were different. It's like two girls coming to a party
wearing the exact same dress. Hazard of using a
stock photo on the cover!

This is one of the better stock photo covers, and
it's not even all that good. 

(This is the first in a series of posts regarding YA literature. Be sure to check out this blog for more.)