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  • Writer's pictureIshta Mercurio

Cover Collection 25: Tyler Johnson Was Here, written by Jay Coles, designed by Marcie Lawrence, with

Welcome to Cover Collection, my so-far-weekly-in-2020 blog series highlighting book covers that I love and breaking down what I love about them. This week, I want to talk about the cover of Tyler Johnson Was Here, a YA novel written by Jay Coles, with a gorgeous cover designed by Marcie Lawrence featuring art by Charlotte Day. Check it out:

A Black boy wearing a white hoodie is looking over his left shoulder at the viewer, while surrounded by flowers on a light blue background.

Normally, I only feature books on here that I've read--I feel that having read a book gives me deeper insight into the imagery, color choices, font, etc. on the cover. HOWEVER: I'm breaking my rule this week, because this cover does one really cool thing that I want to talk about RIGHT NOW and it's actually an advantage if you haven't read the book.

The cool thing that this cover does is dismantle, in one image, the stereotype of Black teenaged boys as dangerous.

Look at it: the boy on the cover is surrounded by flowers, on a pastel blue background. He's wearing a white hoodie. His arms are hanging by his sides. He looks soft, and sad. He looks like the kid that he is. The letters in the title of the book are emerging from the flowers, and are partly obscured by them. By FLOWERS. The jacket flap tells us that this book is about police brutality and race relations in America, and that it tells the story of what happens to a Black boy whose brother is killed by a cop after a party. But the cover gives us flowers, and softness. Every single thing about this cover goes against stereotypes.

I'm writing this on the day after a Super Bowl victory by an NFL team whose mascot and fan culture prop up harmful stereotypes of Native people as being vicious murderers, which they are not. We know these stereotypes lead to racism against Native people, and yet, football fan culture refuses to abandon these stereotypes.

I'm writing this in the midst of dialogue around the publication of a novel about Mexican immigrants that perpetuates negative stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican immigrants. We know that these stereotypes lead to racism against Mexican people--and in fact, these stereotypes led to the election of Trump as president. And yet, they persist. Oprah still wants us to read the book. (I refuse to read the book.)

I'm writing this as the Romance Writers of America quietly falls apart, due to an outcry over racism in its leadership. The overhaul is overdue; I hope that an overhaul of how romance is published follows, with an evaluation of how publishers can do a better job of weeding out stereotypes.

So: this book? This cover? This is something we need more of.

Go read it.

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