By: Kristin Pekoll
Cover art is very subjective. It can make or break a novel for both the publisher and the reader. Librarians and booksellers create displays with cover art facing out in an effort to lure readers to a title they might not otherwise find. They might not include a book in the display if the cover art isn’t appealing.
In an honest and robust discussion of LGBT cover art, author Malinda Lo analyzes Two Boys Kissing and the other (admittedly limited) LGBT novels that openly display affection and “proximity” on the cover. But what is it about David Levithan’s novel that its cover gets called out and challenged but others with kissing, gay and straight, don’t?
Is it the fact that Two Boys Kissing is an extraordinary, stunning, award-winning bestselling novel? Even though it was named to the 2013 National Book Award Longlist, a 2014 Lambda Literary Award winner and was a 2014 Stonewall Honor Book, Two Boys Kissing has repeatedly been challenged.
In 2014, a parent wanted the book removed from the Fauquier County High School library because of concerns about the content of the cover, specifically that it violates the school’s rules against public displays of affection.
Following the publication of the book, Malinda Lo asks Levithan: “Were you concerned that this book cover might limit its readership? I’ve seen some discussion of the idea that gay teens might be afraid to check it out for fear of bullying, for example. And then of course there’s the possibility of people challenging the book.”
While slipping in the phrase, “librarians are brilliant,” Levithan responds:
“Even for the kids who don’t feel comfortable taking it out of the library or buying it in the bookstore yet, they know it’s there. They know they are represented. If you see that book in your library or in your bookstore or at your friend’s house you know that there is part of you that belongs there, and is accepted. There is such power in that. I know there’s worry about kids who might be ashamed of being seen with an ‘out’ book with an ‘out’ cover — but that is far outweighed by the kids who take pride in it, or find some sort of meaning through it.
As for challenges and censors: the book is called Two Boys Kissing. It is about two boys kissing. Why hide that? What good would that do? The people who are going to object to two boys kissing on the cover were going to object to the book from the moment I typed the first sentence. They can argue it all they want. They will always be wrong.”
If you have time, read the backstory behind the photograph. It’s wonderful.