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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Cover Collection 3: AMERICAN STREET, by Ibi Zoboi; cover by Natalie C. Sousa and Elaine Damasco

Welcome to Cover Collection, my (mostly) weekly blog series in which I take a closer look at incredible book covers and what makes them work.

This week, we’re breaking down the gorgeous, gorgeous cover of AMERICAN STREET, by the incredibly brilliant writer Ibi Zoboi. (And I just have to mention that if this book doesn’t have a few new shiny award stickers on it a month from now, I will be shocked. It’s amazing.) The cover, by Natalie C. Sousa and Elaine Damasco, just blows me away, so let’s talk about it!

The Amazing Cover of AMERICAN STREET, by Ibi Zoboi

First, composition. There’s a silhouetted profile of the main character Fabiola’s head, reminiscent of those old-fashioned cameo brooches that were common a few decades ago (but TOTALLY DIFFERENT), BAM, right in the middle of the cover. I like that even though the author’s name and the title cap the cover off at the top and bottom, and both are in all-caps, they don’t detract from the arresting profile right in the center, demanding our attention.

And speaking of that silhouette, one of the incredible things about it -- and the thing that marks it out as so modern and different from those old-fashioned brooches -- is the color. The first thing I noticed was that most of the book jacket is white, which really makes the silhouette and the text pop. And then I noticed the other colors: the red threading its way through the girl’s hair, the yellow flower splashing out of the middle, the black and blue streaking through the whole image. These are urban colors, city colors. They’re wild and messy and THERE, in a way that those classic white or black silhouettes aren’t. And they’re also colors that, accurately or inaccurately, evoke Haiti in my mind.

Additionally, the use of color in the text is, quite simply, a stroke of brilliance. I love the way the cover designer transitioned from the clean, crisp outlines of the silhouette to allowing the blue paint to bleed out beyond the boundaries of the last several letters in the word "American". And it’s not just gently, quietly bleeding -- it’s splotched, it’s smeared, it’s streaked. Something caused this. It’s violent, it’s messy. America is, for Fabiola, a rough place. I love that the cover evokes this so beautifully, and so eloquently. And yet, choosing blue for these letters, instead of, say, red, says something, too. I can’t say enough good things about the choices the cover designer made here.

All of this brings me to the content of this cover, which, among all the amazing elements, is my favorite part. It is obvious, right away, that Fabiola is a black teen, and that is so, so important. It is crucial that black teens find themselves depicted on the covers of books. Moreover, this is a beautiful depiction of her -- she is made up of things that are important to her, that she loves and has been forced to leave behind, but that in her own way, she clings to. She is Haitian, but America is making its mark on her, too, and these things overlap each other in her silhouette. So much of her story plays out right here, on the cover, and that is one of the best things about it.

I've rambled enough -- it's your turn! What do YOU love about this cover? Drop your thoughts in the comments, and let's have a conversation!

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