It’s something we’ve been warned not to do: judge a book by its cover. But the other day, while passing by the Young Adult section at one of the local chain bookstores, it struck me that there might be a virtue in the superficial judgment—in particular when what one finds on the surface is so uniformly disturbing.
What did I take from the covers of those books, written for mostly girls, I suspect, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen? Admittedly, I can only give impressions:
a book with the title Beastly, because “love is a beast”…scantily-clad teenage girls…a book with the title, Party…vampires (of course)…werewolves, too…a book by the former tween starlet Hilary Duff called Elixir, about a girl who finds a magical “soulmate for life and death”…a book with the title, Girl Parts…an entire display for a series entitled Pretty Little Liars…dystopian fantasy…Anthony Horowitz’s mini-Bond Alex Rider…Last Sacrifice…Blood Promise…
The effect of even a pass-by was oppressive. The unalleviated sordidness of cover after cover caused me to suspect a plot. And not merely a plot involving copycat authors and their publishers looking for a ride on the Transylvania gravy train. But a much more significant plot, a murder mystery, in fact, in which the first corpse is the spirit of our young people.
What I found on those covers was in one sense pedestrian and unsurprising: the allure of sex, the first thrills of naughtiness, day-dreams of power. But I also found something far more significant and far more troubling: a desperate yearning—with the emphasis upon desperate—for a love that will transcend death, no matter that a pact be made with a devil in order to achieve it.
The human heart longs for a love that is true, for a “soulmate for life and death.” This is what our nature craves. What is sad is that our young people are being offered trash literature that can’t satisfy this natural desire. It can’t even qualify as junk food. It’s poison, pure and simple.
No doubt I missed something more substantial on those shelves in my superficial glance. You can’t always judge a book by its cover. But when many books have more or less the same twisted cover, it is best to do as I did—and pass by.