What's Up in YA

Masking Up YA Book Covers: Yay or Nay?

Hey YA Readers!

Though we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and case numbers, particularly among the unvaccinated, are rising again across the world, more and more places have begun to return to “normal” operations — whatever “normal” is, anyway. It’s both exciting and nerve-wrecking, particularly for those of us who have or work with the demographic who cannot get vaccinated, be it because of their age or chronic conditions.

We’ve started, too, to see more books about COVID-19 or set during a pandemic that’s meant to resemble this one. A number of those books take inspiration from the newness of America’s mask mandates on their covers, despite the fact masking when one feels ill has been routine in other nations.

Masks on YA book covers is symbolic of the pandemic, of course, as well as symbolic of something feeling utterly not “normal,” but I can’t help wonder: what do readers think about these book covers? Are they interested in reading a book that feels too close to right now? To a major period of fear and anxiety? To grief and loss and mourning?

It’s really hard to say, of course, but I know when these pop up, I find myself pausing and wondering if I’m actually ready or ever will be ready to read fiction that reminds me of a very non-fictional world. Two of the three below are romances, while the third explores the pandemic as it intersects with Black Lives Matter protests — light reading that feels overshadowed with darkness from the masks, alongside a book that’s already taking on something big and adding the complexities of what the masking symbolizes.

Here’s a look at a few of these covers and what the books are about. I’ve purposefully left cover art and designer information off, as the commonality here and the choices made in design aren’t always entirely in their hands and therefore, the criticism isn’t geared to their specific work.

Going Viral by Kate Cicatelli-Kuc (November 2)

During lockdown with her family, Claire’s unable to be with her friends or girlfriend Vanessa. But soon, she begins to notice a new girl who sits on her fire escape across the street from her, and Claire uses that as inspiration for writing a story that immediately goes viral. But is the fame too much for Claire, and how does she reckon with where her heart truly lies?

Hello (From Here) by Chandler Baker and Wesley King

Maxine and Jonah meet in the canned foods aisle just as California begins lockdown because of the pandemic. Jonah lives with anxiety, now exacerbated by COVID-19, while Maxine’s job at the supermarket turns into a nightmare. It’s a terrible time to fall in love, but perhaps it was really meant to be.

Zero O’Clock by CJ Farley (September 7)

Geth’s living in New Rochelle, New York, a pandemic epicenter, and she’s isolated from her best friends. She finds herself confronted with the cops at this time, and steps into being part of the Black Lives Matter movement, for which she’s become deeply passionate. The pandemic and protests upend everything she knows, and now she has to decide how much she’s willing to risk to fight for what she believes.

Perhaps what I’m finding interesting is that there are books taking on pandemic-related topics and that don’t use the symbolic mask. For me, this feels less off-putting, even though the content is going to be similar to the above. An example:

Together, Apart by Erin A. Craig, Auriane Desombre, Erin Hahn, Bill Konigsberf, Rachael Lippincott, Brittney Morris, Sanji Patel, Natasha Preston, and Jennifer Yen

This anthology is a collection of love stories all set during the pandemic lockdown, with entries from some big YA names.

Maybe my adult sensibilities read too much into it, but it’s hard for me to see big appeal for teen readers whose lives have been upended in unbelievable ways gravitating toward mask-themed covers. The anthology makes clear what the book is about and where it’s set, but in a way that feels far less charged and anxiety-evoking.

What do you think? Are you picking up books like the ones with masks on covers or are you hesitating too? Is it just too soon?

There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s a question certainly worth pondering, especially as more bookstores, libraries, and schools eye reopening and books will be more visually browsable for readers.

Thanks for hanging out, and we’ll see you again on Thursday!

— Kelly Jensen, @heykellyjensen on Instagram

Thanks to MIT Press and The Curie Society for sponsoring today’s newsletter.