The Cover Wars

A timeless exploration of high-stakes romance, self-discovery, and the lengths we go to love and be loved. 

Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that. 

This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.

Janet: Fittingly for the narrative, this cover plays with the known and the unknown, with what is seen and what is concealed, and with the interpretation(s) put on each visible element. I like how decisive and self-possessed Zarin appears.

Nafiza: What most makes me want to read this book is the setting. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in Jeddah, at least not a YA novel set there, so I’m very curious about that. I like the cover for how vibrant it is and how it gives me Zarin (I’m assuming) but also doesn’t? Her eyes which would probably reveal the most are kept hidden which whets my appetite. I’m a bit wary though because knowing she’s gone is going to be difficult for the entire time I read about her but hey, maybe there’ll be a miracle? You should look out for an interview with Tanaz closer to the release date of this novel.

Yash: At first glance, the book cover gave me rom-com vibes? So the synopsis was just OMG WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?! I mean, I’ll read this, but man am I sad that we are reading about a dead girl. I agree with Nafiza though, I’ve never read a YA set in Saudi Arabia. Knowing that fact, I see the detail they put into the cover. And yeah, I’d read it.

A Skinful of Shadows is a dark YA historical fantasy set in the early part of the English Civil War. Kate is an illegitimate daughter of the aristocratic Fellmotte family, and as such, she shares their unique hereditary gift: the capacity to be possessed by ghosts. Reluctant to accept her appointed destiny as vessel for a coterie of her ancestors, she escapes. As she flees the pursuing Fellmottes across war-torn England, she accumulates a motley crew of her own allies, including outcasts, misfits, criminals, and one extremely angry dead bear. From Costa Book of the Year winner Frances Hardinge comes a new dark historical fantasy that’s sure to satisfy her leagues of fans who are eager for more.

Janet: This surely isn’t the final synopsis? The first and last sentences don’t belong with the rest – however true it is that Frances Hardinge has legions of fans (*ahem, Nafiza*) who are hungry for her writing. As for the cover, disembodied hands creep me out, but keys, owls, oak boughs, and this art style are hard to resist.

Nafiza: YASSSSSSSSS. Gimme.

Yash: I gotta say, I’ve seen Hardinge’s older book covers and I’m so glad her new book is getting a better cover treatment. I’m not sure what it is about this particular kind of cover, but I always imagine these books to be historical fiction/fantasy and, in this particular case, I’d be right! Woo! (Happens so rarely.) (Except, I wouldn’t have guessed English Civil War.) I know Nafiza loves Hardinge and I have to see what the fangirling is all about–maybe I’ll start with this one? It does have an angry dead bear, after all.

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

Janet: Pretty cover! The colour scheme and the art style evoke woven cloth, how very clever. I don’t know the last time I saw a MG book set during India’s freedom movement. (Never.) Also, mention of Dalits! Despite the synopsis’s tendency to overreveal, I think this will have to go on my tbr list. This Cover Wars is batting 3 for 3 so far (!)

Nafiza: Oh yes. The cover, the synopsis. Yes, yes, yes. I did pick some good ones this week, didn’t I? *beam*

Yash: Not my favourite type of illustration, but I love the colours. And the synopsis is way more interesting than I thought it would be–sorry, I expected a MG novel that reads like notes from history class, aimed at people who don’t know what ahimsa is–and I like the biography element here. But I’m not going to lie, it is mainly the mention of Dalits that makes me want to read this. Here’s what my concern is though, that Dalit characters aren’t presented as whole people (just figures to pity) and disappear from the narrative once the protagonist “learns her lesson”. I don’t want that. I think I’ll wait for Janet to read this before I pick it up. Tentative TBR.

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind–she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

Janet: Girls who want to be/are knights are my jam. The cover conveys and Impy full of action and enthusiasm (and she’s holding the sword correctly!), the synopsis is promising, and I enjoyed Roller Girl.

Nafiza: When I came across this cover, first I was like…omg, does Janet know someone drew her on a cover of a book? And then I read the synopsis and I was like…does Janet know she’s starring in a book? Hehe. This is adorable and I’m bound to read it for Janet.

Yash: Aw, look at that kid who is definitely Janet! I’m in. <3

Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls of the brutal ship where she and her ancestors have lived for generations. The lowdeck slums of HSS Matilda, an antiquated space vessel ferrying the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land, is a prison Aster wants desperately to escape.

When an autopsy of Matilda’s head reveals a surprising link between his death and Aster’s mother’s suicide a quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps in hopes of finding out the truth behind Matilda’s voyage. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way out of this life if she’s willing to fight for it.

Janet: Space! A very determined girl (woman?) who is angry and unafraid to show it! A fantastic collective noun for ghosts! The cover is beautiful and very promising. The back copy appears to be missing a word (the dead man is Matilda’s head what?). I’m a tad concerned by the use of language that evokes slavery – [insults and dehumanization,] brutal ship, lowdeck slums, wants desperately to escape, brutal overseer, civil war – because as much as the legalized evil of that part of history (and its ongoing effects) needs to be continuously exposed, there is a desperate need for stories featuring black characters that do not involve slavery and/or the right for civil rights. On the other hand, the author is a WOC, so *glances at tbr list and picks up a pen*.

Nafiza: I’m determined to read this because I want to read it. The cover is GORGEOUS and the back copy though appearing to be missing a word or several is compelling.

Yash: I’m in. That cover, that title, that synopsis, and oh, did I mention, THAT COVER?! Yeah, TBR ASAP!

In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Collaborating with novelist Renée Watson, Ilyasah Shabazz illuminates four poignant years in her mother’s childhood, painting a beautiful and inspiring portrait of a girl overcoming the challenges of self-acceptance and belonging that will resonate with young readers today.

Janet: The cover is beautiful. It almost looks like it belongs on a picturebook. The back copy is thoroughly aimed at adults. Which. Well. Is not terribly inspiring; on the other hand, I (and I’m guessing almost most Canadians) know nothing about Dr. Betty Shabazz, which gaping hole needs to be rectified. Also, if you ignore the adult-talk after the first four and a half sentences, the synopsis establishes a pretty strong conflict and driving force for Betty’s character and actions.

And that’s 6 for 6. Let the record show that this is the first time I’ve wanted to read every book in a Cover Wars. They all look phenomenal. (My poor unending tbr list!)

Nafiza: Whoa, Janet. This is the first time you’ve ever said that. I have excellent choice. *pops collar* Anyway, yes to this book obviously. Both the cover and the synopsis are just my thing. Give it to me. Give me all of them. Okay maybe not all at once. My TBR is about to bury me.

Yash: I loved Ilyasah Shabaz and Kekla Magoon’s YA novel X, which was a fictionalized account of Shabaz’s father’s childhood. I’m very interested in learning about her mother and the cover and synopsis for this (picture?) book are both amazing. Definitely TBR.