Another White Book Cover—Have Young Adult Novels Been Whitewashed?

book cover young adult novels

You're reading young adult novels and you're beautiful--so why is it hard for so many of you to be represented on a book cover? | Source: Shutterstock

Kate Hart is an author of young adult novels, and she’s brought up something pretty disturbing about nearly every book cover in the genre: Almost all of them feature white models. WTF?!

Hart reports that in 2011, out of the multitudes of book covers she looked at, 90 percent featured a white character. What’s more, on the few covers that featured black characters, a lot of the time their faces were obscured or they were behind a white person. The young adult novels she looked at also didn’t feature a single character with any kind of apparently disability–she even says there wasn’t even a single “token wheelchair.” Pretty messed up, right?

The lack of diversity on book covers is pretty unsettling. If only 58 percent of Americans are considered white, why are 90 percent of the models on young adult novels Caucasian? It’s a similar–and negative–phenomenon to the nearly impossible beauty ideals presented in a lot of fashion magazines. Most of us don’t look like the people who are supposed to be representing us on magazine and book covers, even if we’re white! It’s easy for book covers to make readers who don’t fit that particular mold–thin, white, perfectly symmetrical, and super airbrushed–feel like they’re not good enough. And that couldn’t be further from the truth, because you–yes, you!–are pretty frickin’ rad.

So who’s to blame for this? Well, that’s complicated. Publishers wouldn’t use a book cover that wouldn’t sell well, so it can be partly blamed on the consumers–that’s us! But on the flip side, we buy what’s there, so that kind of points to them, right? It’s sort of a vicious cycle, and Hart says that several authors even object to the practice, but they have little actual control over what gets on each book cover–despite being the people who wrote the book!

Something else to consider: There may be a lack of diversity in the stock photography that young adult novels feature on each book cover. It’s so much less expensive for publishers–and even websites like Gurl–to pay a flat fee for stock photos than it is to get original illustrations or hold photo shoots for every single book cover that gets made. Perhaps if the stock photos featured more people of color, the book covers would too.

What can you do? Take a look at the books you’re reading and buying. Are people of color featured on the cover or as main characters within the text? Are you choosing from authors of color too? If you’re not, start. If you are, spread the word: blog about it, put a link to your fave new young adult novels on Facebook, and get other people reading them too. Money talks, so if publishing houses see young adult novels with people of color on their book covers flying off of shelves, they may be likely to produce more of them!

Do you feel underrepresented on young adult novel book covers? Do you think young adult novel book covers are whitewashed? How do you think young adult novels could improve the art on each book cover? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Fantasy books teens

    What up all? If you like epic fantasy books for teenagers you might want to read the first chapter of Sons of Caasi “Battle for Time” I never heard of the author c. grant, but I read the first chapter and it looks to be solid. The cover is the bomb and kinda mysterious. I hated that they only gave you the first chapter thou.

  • Librarian

    As a librarian at a rural high school where 90% of the population is black i find this a real problem. My students read books with white kids on the cover, no problem, some of their favorite books have all white characters. my problem is most the book featuring black characters are all about coming from horrible home lives, living in ghettos, dealing with drugs, prostitution, children out of wedlock, etc. These are not the lives the majority of my black students are living. Yet they see nothing written about people like them from stable families, doing well in school, going to college. I think it’s a shame and a huge flaw in the industry.

  • Sweettreat

    Okay, I appreciate the point this article is trying to make, but why does the title have to say “Whitewashed”? It makes it sound like if someone starts acting like their white friends it’s bad? I love Asian culture and adopt a lot of their manners and no one would ever hate on me for THAT. It makes me angry when people act like it’s okay to discriminate against whites but not any other race, because the point of fighting against racism is equality for ALL!

    • Lake

      Sweettreat, do yourself a favor and look up whitewashing. Then try writing that comment again.

  • Kadee

    okay, i have no problem with any race, i dont think about race when i think of a person or anything like that; but in my opinion i really dont think they’re are any more white girls on covers than there are asian, latina, or black. I have seen entire series with multiple books solely based on latinas or black people. Again this isn’t me being mean towards any race, it’s just my opinion on the post.

  • Bob

    One which is more important than the roncmae.Really not much into drippy characters who think about nothing but their love for each other. Romance can make a good background to other sorts of novels, but it really doesn’t work for me when it’s the other way around.

  • Wanda

    The sexual toneisn between the characters! I also like heroes who are dark and mysterious they behave cold and arrogant but they’re really vulnerable and hurt! I love how at the end, they become all loving and stuff! it makes it so much more exciting!I also like romance novels with a mystery edge or a major conflict that must be overcome!

  • victoria

    I don’t think this is racist at all. I think Gurl is just putting out there the lack of diversity in this situation. It is true that most book covers have a whit model, that’s just a stated fact. There’s nothing particularly WRONG with that, but it does show lack of diversity like I said before. I think you all are forgetting also that there are more races than just black and white. Anyway, Good Job!

  • Nijimi

    I don’t care if the person is black, white, green, or purple- I read a book to READ it, not look at the cover. I don’t care about the character’s race, I care about the plot- if it’s good I’ll get it, if it’s bad, I won’t.

    Simple. A good book sells, a bad one doesn’t.

  • Dee

    Your trying to combat racism with pointing out racism. Good Job!

  • megan

    i think this is the stupidest article ever. also i think its racist. i dont give 2 poops wat the person looked like who wrote the book. even if they mention someone black, i picture them white in my head. im not being racist i just dont even think about it. im sure black people do the same. WHO CARES

    • Karrotpulp

      I think you don’t know what racist means. There is no hatred in putting just Caucasian models on the cover. Or mentioning it in a blog. What they are saying is how the US is seen as the melting pot of the world but we do not represent what we are.

    • why

      So you just pretend people of color don’t exist??? You just make them white and it’s all good? Um, ok.

  • xtf

    I don’t look weather the writer is black or white. I read the back of the book and if it sounds good I get it. What color the people on the cover is shouldnt matter a good book is a good book.

  • tanya

    If the author of the book is white, the character probably will be. If the author is black, the character probably will be. Maybe more black woman should write.

    • mick

      Maybe more black women should write? As a female writer of mixed race I must say that is one of the most unmerited statements I have ever seen on this site

    • shauna