During #yalitchat on Wednesday, I had the privilege to sneak a peek at the titles and covers of a dozen debut YA novels hitting the shelves in 2012. There were some real stand-outs: the title Rape Girl struck me as daring and a little bit brilliant, and bound to get press attention; I also loved the high-saturation artwork on the cover of Jessica Souders’s Renegade (see here).
But looking at that gorgeous image, something tickled me about it, too: A gorgeous, blond white chick in a flowing red dress, hmm. It was eerily familiar.
Near the end of the chat, I snapped up a link to an exhaustive list of YA novels scheduled for release in 2012 on GoodReads. It wasn’t anything unexpected: the fifth Mortal Instruments book reigned at the top of the list (a tired series, but still popular nonetheless), the third in the Matched trilogy sat a little further down–mostly sequels and tri-quels and in some cases, the seventh or eighth book in a line-up.
What did surprise me, though, were the covers. I want to show you a somewhat disturbing image:
If you haven’t noticed a pattern, you may not be the only one. If you have–well, it’s a little unsettling, isn’t it? Of the top 25 books on the YA novels of 2012 list, at least 18 of them (a few are missing cover images at this point) feature a prominent picture of a white girl. (Usually wearing some flowing dress/sheet/nightgown thing.) The books that don’t feature a photo of a white girl have no photos on the cover at all.
Thinking I was just being overly-sensitive, I sent out the link on Twitter and suggested that it was a tad strange that so many YA book covers feature photos of white chicks. I wasn’t the only one, though: others thought it was a queer trend, though whether it implied a shift in the content of YA books or a shift in simply the cover art was not clear.
I’m leaning towards thinking it’s a little of both. At one time, the concept of the Twilight-esque YA novel was non-existent. When I was going through middle and high school, YA novels were classically books like The Giver or Catcher in the Rye or The Mysterious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time. But now that the genre is overwhelmingly dominated by books for teenage girls, it makes sense they would all show pictures of beautiful white girls in striking red dresses–it’s the same publishing mindset as romance books that feature topless hunks (also white) making out with plain Jane (also white).
Nonetheless, it rankles me. Where are the YA novels featuring latinas or South African girls (like Zoo City for young adults)? I can’t be alone in picking a Mexican girl as my main character. She’s got so much history and personality, I don’t think anyone else could tell her story the way she does, or with quite as much attitude. Even worse: where are our male characters? Well, not a single one appears on a cover unless coupled with a white girl in a flimsy gown on the 2012 YA list. And even then, where are the asian men? (My pal J.A. Yang pointed me to Foxfire, the only YA book cover this year featuring an asian guy–though he does come outfitted with a pair of Photoshopped fox ears. So that answers that question!)
What are your thoughts? Is this a trend that we should be keeping tabs on? Do you know of a great YA book coming out in 2012 that offers diversity of perspective?