As a writer, I try and read every single new release within the genre I write in (contemporary YA for those following along at home) to best understand what is being published and why. Some of them are straightforward and obvious fun, and others make me scratch my head and say "Really?", but that's what makes this business subjective. When I came across one of the latest offerings, "The Summer of Skinny Dipping" by Amanda Howells, at my local library, I picked it up off the shelf and immediately dubbed it a frothy beach read I'd skim when I had the chance. Lesson learned: Never judge a book by it's cover.
Admittedly, the cover shows a seascape and an impossibly thin teen in a gauzy flowing wrap skirt and bikini top skittering amongst the waves, and the back offers up a stereotypical summer romance about the girl who falls in love with the boy renting the summer house next door the summer of her sixteenth year. Been there, read that, right? I thought so too. But that's the problem - the cover, and the brief description on the back, don't even begin to touch on the magic that lies on the pages within.
Although the book starts predictably in a light way, it quickly delves beneath the surface and deals with dark topics, deep emotions and makes your heart catch in your throat on more than one occasion. The writing is lyrical and beautiful, evoking all senses, and allowing the reader to crawl into the main character Mia's skin in a way that truly took me back to being sixteen again. Further, what took me most by surprise is that the ending had a twist I never saw coming - something you don't usually find in what I would have normally judged as a "lightweight" novel. Sure, there are seeds planted along the way, as any good writer should do to get the reader thinking, but this was so not what I expected that I literally found myself emotionally reactive at the end and had to sit with the story for a few moments after finishing it. I don't want to give anything away, because it's well worth a read to enjoy Amanda Howell's beautiful writing and sensitive love story, but I have to say she did an excellent job as a writer of taking the reader fully on her character's journey and immersing them in her world and her heart.
A lot of teen novels today have similar covers. It's the publisher that chooses these, not the writer, and my guess is it's based on sales of similar novels. If you liked x novel and it had x cover, you are likely to pick up this novel off the shelf and check it out. However, take that extra step and read the inside flap. Better yet, if you can, sit and read the first chapter or two, because what you see on the cover may not be what you get. If you pass on something because of a lackluster or even misleading cover, you may miss out on a gem of a story.