We all had a great aunt who served some sort of half-jiggly, half-solid salad/treacle/ambrosia concoction every holiday and who encouraged us to dive into it with this idiom. A few of us had a choir teacher who nudged us toward that skinny, zit-ridden baritone who wanted to sing All I Ask of You with us for All West auditions. And maybe someone, somewhere, once encouraged a 15-year-old girl to ride the Zippin Pippin with it. And despite all that well-meaning encouragement, all of those things definitely should have been judged by their covers.
But rarely is it ever really applied to books, and even more rarely is actually applied to book covers. We’ve talked about book covers before. The good, and the bad. And we have no problem reading a dorky, embarrassing cover on our commute. We do us, and we do good reads no matter what they look like.
But when I say it’s time to judge a book by its cover, I mean this: sometimes a cover is SO good, it deserves to be a reason you love the book.
Judge This Book By Its Cover
Behold, the cover of Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact in all its dustjacketed glory:
It’s not just the Millenial pink field. Or the embossed gold script. It’s not the black-lined contrast of the stylized characters.
It’s how intimate they look while curled away from one another and staring into their phones. It’s his tattoos and both’s hair. THEIR HAIR. And to be real? It’s also that Rainbow Rowell endorsement.
This weekend I was in my local Barnes and Noble getting Easter gifts for my girls. (Sidenote: at 11 and 13 BOTH of them have finally agreed with their mother that reading is the best.) Emergency Contact was sitting on an endcap between the information desk and the teen romance section. And this cover stopped me in my tracks.
This. Cover. It’s gorgeous. It’s romantic. It’s sweet. It’s a bit sexy. And I really wanted to read the book because of it.
Good book covers can do that. They are designed to draw you in. They are marketing in its most basic element: what trends, colors, fonts and negative space can we exploit to maximize the likelihood that 14 to 48-year-old eyeballs will be drawn to this product? But for this book, the cover is not just about making sure that teenage and young adult girls (and ok 30-something-year-old moms) are drawn to the design. This cover tells a story. It’s PROLOGUE.
Dust jacket copy time:
For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.
Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.
When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.
Awkward turtles falling in love over text messages? WHERE DO I SEND MY CASH MONEY? Oh, to this B&N cashier right here who knows me by name? Cool. Done.
Judge This Book By My Review
I took this precious book home with me from the store. I ignored other things that I had to do on Easter Sunday afternoon and read half of it before bed. I finished it Monday night. And it was everything its cover promised me. But with less actual Millenial pink.
Sometimes you need a sweet, simple young adult romance. These characters aren’t high schoolers though, and that was a plus for me. Entering college is a strange world, and Choi really captures the strangeness of leaving home but still feeling indelibly tied to your home while trying to navgiate the newess of being completely independent.
The main character, Penny, is difficult and set in her ways. She’s quirky, but not rude. She’s hard to be friends with, but she isn’t particularly naive or untrusting. She’s prickly but not painfully desperate. The erstwhile suitor, Sam, is super ordinary. His conversation is normal. His situation is odd, but not exceptional. There’s nothing particularly YOUNG ADULT HERO about it. Except maybe the tattoos. These things are refreshing and real.
Their connection, their story, their burgeoing friendship and even their angst feel solid and relatable. Their text messages are witty and cute and serious and silly but they don’t seem written by a 42-year-old with an MFA and a drive to prove to his college girlfriend that he ended up being cooler than her. They aren’t corny. They’re just … awkward. Honest. And really, really fun to read.
I couldn’t put this book down. I had to a few times because – life, but I didn’t want to. Occassionally, I would find myself putting a finger in my place and just turning to look at the cover again. Finding Penny and Sam, the characters I was coming to know, in the illustration that drew me to them in the first place. When I finished the book, I sighed, ran my hands over that gold embossing, and shelved it, knowing I’ll pull it out when I want another dose of adorable fiction.