YA fiction and oversexualisation

Yesterday, Young Adult fiction author Sarah McCarry exclusively shared the cover for her upcoming novel, About a Girl, with MTV. The cover features two girls kissing, and MTV believe that ‘images like this need to become the norm’. I think images like that are already the norm, and teens especially seem to be becoming more accepting of people’s sexual preferences. However, I don’t think that kissing needs to feature on a book cover.

So far, it seems that the general reaction on the internet is that the cover is a step in the right direction – we should champion gay couples and not be shocked by an image like this on the front of a contemporary novel. Though this might be a controversial opinion, I’m not a huge fan of the photo, and I don’t think that kissing between any sort of couple belongs on the cover of a YA novel.

The book is being released in the US in Summer 2015 by Macmillan Publishers. Their website states that the book is targeted at 14 to 18 year olds, and the protagonist of the novel is 18 herself. I was a voracious reader as a 14 year old and often read books that, looking back, I was probably too young to read. My parents were happy with me reading books targeted at an adult audience from around the age of 12, but I do not believe that they would have been okay with me reading About a Girl as a 14 year old because of the cover image.

The image is supposed to promote diversity within literature, as though the consumer is used to seeing covers featuring heterosexual couples kissing. I don’t think the image is edgy or praiseworthy because it features a gay couple (it’s already been done by David Levithan anyway with the cover of his novel Two Boys Kissing, which, unsurprisingly, features two boys kissing) – the image is just quite shocking regardless of the genders of the individuals. Perhaps this view is narrow minded and old fashioned, but I do not understand why it is necessary to make kissing such an outward focus in a novel for teens.

I’m sure all teens know the cringing feeling of watching a kissing scene or a sex scene on television with family members in the room. To me, this cover is the literary equivalent. I couldn’t imagine reading the novel around my parents at such an awkward age – it just screams ‘This Book Contains Sex Scenes!’

Lastly, I feel that the image entirely misses what it is attempting to do. I feel that the point of the cover is that it is supposed to be cutting edge and ultra modern, evocative of the (hopefully near) future in which society is free to explore sexuality. Personally, I think that the cover already looks dated. The models, with their bleach blonde hair and hoop earrings, have a look of the early noughties about them. While I understand that the black vines in front of the image are representative perhaps of feelings of being trapped or imprisoned by society, they look odd and untrendy. Perhaps, it would have been better if the cover designer attempted something completely new if he or she wanted to really be at the forefront of this apparent new trend in YA fiction.

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