Cover design never fails to fascinate me. We really and truly DO judge books based on their covers, and I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. It’s a marketing tool, a way to bring readers to a book when there are hundreds from which to choose. In YA, this holds especially true, and book covers can be a useful means of reader advisory as well. Covers that have the same “feel” can make great read alikes.
A trend I’ve seen popping up is one I really like and forces me to pause to take it in. It’s the scene within a scene. You have what looks like one image when you take it in as a whole, but as you look deeper, you find an additional scene within it. It’s compelling and offers a way to pack in a lot more information about the book’s contents. It’s a bit like the YA montage cover, but instead of playing outward, it plays itself inward.
I’ve pulled together some great examples of the scene inside a scene YA cover design. Designer credits are included where found, and descriptions all come from Goodreads. Know of other recent covers that fit the trend? I’d love to hear about them!
Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher
Cover design by Kerri Resnick, Illustration by Beatriz Naranjalidad
I’m a big fan of the bookstore scene within the girl we see in the foreground. The juxtaposition of the larger girl on the outside’s expression with what is (I assume) her expression on the interior scene is clever.
Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.
In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.
When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.
Cold The Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long (January)
Cover design by Olga Grlic, illustration by Luisa Preissler
This one is a scene within a scene within a scene! Check out the wolf frame, with the girl’s face inside, then continue looking inward for a wolf and person running in a snowy wood. The waves of the wolf’s main on the outer image mirrors the waves in the girl’s hair, as well as the movement of the two running.
A captivating debut about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths.
After angering a local gangster, seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen must flee with his prize fighting wolf, Iska, in tow. A team of scientists offer to pay her way off her frozen planet on one condition: she gets them to the finish line of the planet’s infamous sled race. Though Sena always swore she’d never race after it claimed both her mothers’ lives, it’s now her only option. But the tundra is a treacherous place, and as the race unfolds and their lives are threatened at every turn, Sena starts to question her own abilities. She must discover whether she’s strong enough to survive the wild – whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive.
The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
Cover designed by Kerri Resnick, illustrated by Peter Strain
Aside from the greater image of two girls made of smoke being chilling in and of itself, the solitary cabin amid the woods inside the image only adds to the atmosphere. The color palette here enhances the entire design.
The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won’t stay hidden any longer.
Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV’s ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there’s more secrets buried here than they originally let on.
Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.
Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (paperback)
I can’t find the artist or designer responsible for the new paperback edition of Oshiro’s sophomore YA book and I wish I could. I really love the look going on here, and I think the way the original hardcover was woven into the new look is savvy. This design, even with its two people pictured on the cover, manages to feel more isolating than the original.
Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.
Full Flight by Ashley Schumacher (February)
Design by Kerri Resnick, illustration by Beatriz Naranjalidad (starting to look familiar?)
The marching band inside the girl in its super saturated color is so much fun. I’m also drawn in by the couple being mirrored in the shirt of the guy on the right — is it the same couple? One quirk, though: where is his other leg? The physical impossibility here is boggling my mind a bit. Her knee couldn’t be bent the way it is if his other leg is bent and parallel to the one we see.
Everyone else in the tiny town of Enfield, Texas calls fall football season, but for the forty-three members of the Fighting Enfield Marching Band, it’s contest season. And for new saxophonist Anna James, it’s her first chance to prove herself as the great musician she’s trying hard to be.
When she’s assigned a duet with mellophone player Weston Ryan, the boy her small-minded town thinks of as nothing but trouble, she’s equal parts thrilled and intimidated. But as he helps her with the duet, and she sees the smile he seems to save just for her, she can’t help but feel like she’s helping him with something too.
After her strict parents find out she’s been secretly seeing him and keep them apart, together they learn what it truly means to fight for something they love. With the marching contest nearing, and the two falling hard for one another, the unthinkable happens, and Anna is left grappling for a way forward without Weston.
Flyy Girls (series) by Ashley Woodfolk
Designed by Julia Rosenfield
All four of the books in this series use the same design technique and bold colors. I love that we get to know each of the four Flyy Girls with what’s collaged inside their silhouette.
Lux Lawson is on a spree. Ever since her dad left, she’s been kicked out of every school that would take her, and this is her last chance: Harlem’s Augusta Savage School of the Arts. If this doesn’t work, Lux is off to military school, no questions asked. That means no more acting out, no more fights, and definitely no boyfriends. Focus on her photography, and make nice friends. That’s the deal.
Enter the Flyy Girls, three students who have it all together. The type of girls Lux needs to be friends with to stay out of trouble. And after charming her way into the group, Lux feels she’s on the right track. But every group has their secrets, including Lux. And when the past starts catching up with her, can she keep her place as a Flyy Girl?
In this searing series opener, Lux takes center stage as she figures out just how hard it can be to start over.
With simply stated text and compelling characters, Flyy Girls is a series that’s perfect for readers of any level.
The Project by Courtney Summers
Cover design by Kerri Resnick, illustration by Marie Bergeron
It’s a scene from in the book and definitely adds a thriller vibe to the cover. It’s interesting to me how Summers’s books, for the most part, feature very prominent hair on the cover model.
Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died in a tragic car accident, her sister Bea joined the elusive community called The Unity Project, leaving Lo to fend for herself. Desperate not to lose the only family she has left, Lo has spent the last six years trying to reconnect with Bea, only to be met with radio silence.
When Lo’s given the perfect opportunity to gain access to Bea’s reclusive life, she thinks they’re finally going to be reunited. But it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found, and as Lo delves deeper into The Project and its charismatic leader, she begins to realize that there’s more at risk than just her relationship with Bea: her very life might be in danger.
As she uncovers more questions than answers at each turn, everything Lo thought she knew about herself, her sister, and the world is upended. One thing doesn’t change, though, and that’s what keeps her going: Bea needs her, and Lo will do anything to save her.
A Sitting in St James by Rita Williams-Garcia
Designed by David Curtis and illustrated by Mark Smith
Besides being one of my favorite books of 2021, this is also one of my favorite cover designs. It brilliantly captures the story, filling the silhouette with scenes from the book. This is a story on a plantation and the person made of nature on the foreground is one of the key figures — and in my mind, most fascinating — in the book.
This astonishing novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.
1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s indifference, to sit for a portrait.
But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. Stories that span generations, from the big house to out in the fields, of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.
Sunkissed by Kasie West
Sunglasses on YA book covers was such a thing for a long time. This design takes it a step further with the image of a cabin in the woods beside a lake, giving a nice idea of the lightness of the story and its setting. Unlike a couple of the covers above, the cabin here doesn’t feel scary.
Will the stars align?
Avery has always used music as an escape. But after her best friend betrays her, even her perfectly curated playlists can’t help her forget what happened. To make matters worse, her parents have dragged her and her social-media-obsessed sister to a remote family camp for two months of “fun.” Just when Avery is ready to give up on the summer altogether, she meets Brooks—mysterious, frustratingly charming Brooks—who just happens to be on staff—which means he’s off-limits.
What starts as a disaster turns into . . . something else. As the outside world falls away, Avery embarks on a journey of self-discovery. And when Brooks offers her the chance of a lifetime, she must figure out how far is she willing to go to find out what she wants and who she wants to be.
Time Will Tell by Barry Lyga
Designed and illustrated by Chris Koehler and Jenny Kimura
The design for Lyga’s latest book is fabulous. I love the hourglass and how we know this’ll be a twisty thriller from it. But add to that the scene of the teens looking downward toward the falling sand — which turns into a knife — and it has everything you’d need to know about the story. The book’s partially set in 1986 and I think that is reflected in the way the cover also feels like an 80s teen mystery.
Four teens have dug up the time capsule that their parents buried in 1986 and never bothered to recover. But in addition to the expected ephemera of mixtapes, Walkmans, photographs, letters, toys, and assorted junk, Elayah, Liam, Marcie, and Jorja discover something sinister: a hunting knife stained with blood and wrapped with a note. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill anyone.”
As the action dramatically alternates between the present day and 1986, the mystery unfolds and the sins of the past echo into today. The teens haven’t just unearthed a time capsule: they’ve also dug up pain and secrets that someone–maybe one of their own parents–is willing to kill for.