Literary classics imagined as YA books
At the height of Fault in Our Stars fervor — just before the film adaptation hit screens this month — Slate published an essay by Ruth Graham with the incendiary headline “Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books.” Graham, who argued that young-adult novels such as Fault were mostly about “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia,” proceeded to get clobbered on social media. Not-so-young adults, bloggers, esteemed critics, and tweeters flaunting the hashtag #NoShameYA took to the Internet to berate her, and their message was loud and clear: There’s no shame in YA—and don’t you dare call it mediocre and clichéd.
So who’s right? The fans, it turns out. Sure, there’s treacly garbage on YA shelves. That’s true of any book category. But not only is Fault as emotionally complex as adult fiction, quite a few books now considered literary classics—from The Catcher in the Rye to Jane Eyre—might well be classified as YA (or its older cousin New Adult) if they were published for the first time today. Need proof? EW combed the canon for de facto young-adult reads and then asked Jason Booher, art director of Blue Rider Press, to redesign their covers for a modern YA audience. Take that, shamers.
[Ed. note: The EW.com version of this post, which originally ran in the print edition of EW, includes commentary from Booher on his designs. They are reproduced below each book-jacket image.]
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: “This one is really about de-emphasizing her name (leaving it off completely) and having young people connect with the fact that it is a real girl’s diary. It gives power to the original title that most people don’t even use. And her picture is famous enough that it works the other way as well for those who would have recognized her.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye: “The idea here comes from when Holden is in his sister’s school waiting for Phoebe he sees this obscenity written under the stairway and rubs it out, sees another and rubs it out and then comes across one that is scratched into the paint. And that’s when he realizes that even if he dedicated his life to going around to every school/place and erase every obscenity he wouldn’t be able to get rid of them all. And kids like his sister would still see it and lose their innocence. Of course the FU also makes sense to attract contemporary teenage readers who will correctly identify the book as subversive to social norms. And the FU makes sense in Holden’s quest to find a place without accepting social norms as well.”
William Golding, Lord of the Flies: “The Rorschach test mark is clearly bloody and ominous. But it also speaks to the psychological issues Golding deals with in the book. It actually resembles a pigs head, but turned on it’s side like this it’s not too obvious so it stays abstract and doesn’t get pictoral. The letter arrangement suggests the chaos and breaking down of the governing rules of modern society.”
Frank Hebert, Dune: “The simplicity of the tall constructed letters on the landscape suggests the epic sweep of the book. And the two symbols of the Major Houses—Atreides and Harkonnen—hint at the extreme political/militaristic plot.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: “This is trying to not show a depiction of Jane, but plays on the interior passion that we get from Jane’s voice. The lips are romantic/sexy but they’re also an emphasis on her words having the power, not what she looks like. Same with the fire illustration—the power of Jane’s inner passion. And the engravings also suggest a time period.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird: “A little straightforward but visually arresting. The hanging body position with dangling legs connects the “killing” to the idea of lynching. The letters drawn by my daughter (who is 6) around the dead bird bring the conflict of the children of the book encountering this adult reality. As well as suggest a non traditional childhood logic—this is how Sadie used to write words and sentences where they just fill the space you have and you move on to the next line or space not really worrying if the words break up strangely.”
John Knowles, A Separate Peace: “The legs of two boys coming in from the top foreshadow the fall(s) and keeps the boys apart from everything else. It’s also a trick to have a photo that reads as young men but doesn’t put a picture/face in your head as a reader for any of the characters. The shield shape with clouds also suggests this kind of dramatic space of our school-year childhood where we are separate in our own little worlds.”