We’ve all done it—passed by a book in a store or library and completely overlooked it due to its unsightly cover. Or perhaps it’s the alternative, buying a book solely because of how attractive the cover looks regardless of what content lies within. I am somewhat of a believer in judging books by their covers, but sometimes it is worth setting aside poor cover choices because of how amazing of a story that’s been written. It is important to know, more often than not, authors have little say in what the cover will end up looking like and is usually the fault of the publishing company. With that being said though, let’s jump right into going through some books with ugly covers but beautiful stories hidden inside!
Daughter of Smoke and Bone:
Although the cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone leaves much to be desired (the text font is something off of one of those photoshop apps you can download on your phone), Laini Taylor is a writer who knows exactly what she’s doing. Black handprints are popping up around the world, burned onto doorways without an apparent cause or reason. Blue-haired Karou, an art student living in Prague, is attempting to live a life of normalcy despite the oddities occurring around her—until she meets the dark and mysterious Akiva. Magical and mystical, a story full of monsters, demons, and angels, Daughter of Smoke and Bone will keep you hooked until the very last page and leave you wanting more (good thing the series is a trilogy).
And if the cover really is too abhorrent for you, it did recently undergo a bit of a makeover and the updated cover is so much nicer.
**Content Warning: Explicit sexual themes, abuse, violence, meant for a mature audience.
Kushiel’s Dart follows the tumultuous life of Phèdre in the land of Terre d'Ange, a world obsessed with perfection and beauty. Phèdre, however, is cursed (or some might say blessed) with a small red dot in her eye known as Kushiel’s Dart—where anyone who bears such a mark will feel pain as if it is pleasure. The novel takes you through Phèdre’s life from childhood, to courtesan, to ruthless spy. The story is lush with rich description, complex characters, and a politically intricate plot—yet the cover is…well it is what it is. Although not as terrible as the typical steamy romances one might find adorned with a shirtless muscular man, it is still not the cover most people would be spotted with in public. Readers should be aware that despite the subject matter (topics of sex work and BDSM) and the questionable cover choice, the story within is beautifully written and worth checking out.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a personal favorite of mine—a heart-wrenching and touching story that revolves around the world of being a teenager and discovering who you are and what life really means. A classic coming-of-age story, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told through letters written by Charlie as he experiences the ups and downs of high school, love, teenage awkwardness, and so much more. It tackles important topics such as sexual abuse, depression, drugs, among many others. A story loved by many, you would wonder why the cover is so plain, with a jarring color choice that consumes the front. If I wanted to look at the cover in a metaphorical sense, it might be reasonable—the title is small and awkwardly place, symbolizing that “wallflower” aspect surrounded by the loudness and overwhelming crowd represented by the chartreuse coloring. Despite being an attention grabber, if I was dared to pick the prettiest book cover in the room, it wouldn’t be this one. There is also the movie tie-in cover, which is always a disappointment (I mean, who asks for those). Like every book listed here though, it is not one you want to pass over.
Hull Zero Three:
Although, perhaps, one of the least offensive covers listed in this blog there is still something generally unappealing about this cover. Personally, the oversized text that is just slightly too big a sliver of the edges is cut off, the grimy metal background, and the similar text for the author’s name makes the cover a little unsightly. The story is also rather unsightly, but in the most interesting way possible. Hull Zero Three will take you through the deep, dark crevices of space. You’ll find yourself lost as you try to figure out what is happening alongside the main character who wakes up in a strange ship lurking with monsters and other survivors like him. Leaning more heavily on the Sci-Fi genre, if that is something you tend to gravitate toward, don’t let this ugly book cover stop you!
All in all, will we still judge books by their covers? Of course! Covers play a large part in how well a book sells unfortunately. We’re all creatures of habit, so more than likely we will always choose the shiny and pretty cover over many of the ones listed here. However, hopefully if there is any takeaway from this it's that even the uglier books are worthwhile. You never know what next favorite read you might discover in the process!
This blog was written by Yasmene S. and first appeared July 2022.