One oft-repeated mantra of publishing is that book covers exist solely for marketing purposes: they’re designed to get you to pick the book up off the shelf, and help you identify it as something you’d like to read.
This mantra is usually quoted when readers (or authors) complain that the cover is not true to the book–the images don’t match the details of the story, etc. Covers are advertising, they say—a billboard in a bookstore, plain and simple.
It’s awesome when a cover bucks that trend. Or, rather, when it works well as advertising, but also as a great work of art, conveying not just genre and character, but also theme and meaning.
Therefore, it was with delight when I saw Ally Condie’s latest cover revealed—the last in her Matched trilogy. (Disclaimer: Ally’s a good friend of mine, but I’m not trying to buzz market her book. I just really find her covers fascinating.)
I’m going to try to do this without spoiling too much (but I will spoil some things).
First, the dress. It’s Cassia’s fancy gown she wears to her dystopian coming-out party. It’s puffy and big and impractical, a high-school prom dress. It’s a princess dress, evoking dreams of happily-ever-afters.
Second, the color scheme is green. As we’ll see through the series of covers, the color schemes are correlated to the three pills everyone in The Society carries. Green is the Valium of the Matched world, a pill taken to calm and pacify.
Third, the sphere. It looks fragile and thin, like a soap bubble. Even though it symbolizes Cassia’s imprisonment, it’s not a violent imprisonment—it’s just that she’s living in a bubble, unaware of dark truths that are hidden all around her.
Fourth, her pose. Yes, she’s trapped, but hardly looks concerned. She’s not panicked, not fighting.
In other words, this first cover perfectly conveys Cassia’s world at the start of Matched: it’s a false fairy tale. She’s calm, unaware of the fact that her princess life is even problematic.
First, it’s not a dress anymore. They’re more practical clothes for a girl on the run. She’s not living a fairytale anymore; she’s pursuing a new life, and that process can’t involve frills and creature comforts.
Second, the color scheme is blue, correlating to the blue pill—the energy bar of The Society. Blue pills keep people alive, which is what Crossed is focused on—surviving in a terrible situation.
Third, the sphere: she’s breaking out of it, yes, and that’s obviously symbolic of her beginning her escape. But what I find more interesting is that the sphere is no longer a soap bubble–it has weight and density. It’s still thin, like the glass of a Christmas ornament, but it’s solid, and it takes effort.
Finally, her pose: it’s active. She’s fighting. She’s breaking out.
Crossed, therefore, is a book of action. It’s about giving up the comforts of ignorance and fighting for survival and knowledge.
Now, I haven’t read Reached yet (which makes me very sad). But, following the pattern of the previous covers, there is symbolism we can plainly see.
First, Cassia’s back in a dress. But even though it’s a beautiful dress, it’s a stark contrast to the fluff of the Matched dress. This one is simple and elegant and grown-up. Cassia has grown from a child to an adult.
Second, the cover is red. The red pill is The Society’s weapon: it makes people forget their problems. While the other two pills ostensibly help the citizens (by calming them and helping them survive), this one is insidious and controlling.
Third, the sphere. This is my favorite aspect of this cover. What had once been a soap bubble, then a thin ornament, is now a hard, heavy glass ball. The texture of the breaks shows there is thickness to the sphere–thickness and hardness that we didn’t see in the Crossed cover. Breaking out of this sphere took more than the simple punch from the last book. Also, the shards of this sphere look dangerous: razor sharp; the curved breaks looking almost like knapped obsidian.
Finally, her pose: she’s no longer sitting, but no longer fighting either. Instead, she’s standing confidently, facing something we can’t see. There’s strength in her pose now, and readiness.
Anyway, these are my thoughts. I’m a huge fan of these books and eager to read Reached. And I’m in love with the covers—and the fact that the publisher would put so much thought and symbolism into them.