Behind the Book

How The You I’ve Never Known Cover Came to Be

January 25, 2017
The Riveted Team
Believe In Your Shelf

Ellen Hopkins’s The You I’ve Never Known just went on sale yesterday (1/24) and there’s no doubt that it’s going to make a huge impact on everyone who reads it (we’re featuring an extended excerpt so definitely check it out). Ellen’s books have always been known for being hard-hitting and powerful and The You I’ve Never Known will not disappoint. Its topical premise may be ripped straight from the headlines but like many of Ellen’s other books, it has a basis in Ellen’s own life, a heartbreaking but hopeful story which we she shared with us earlier this week.  However, The You I’ve Never Known also shows a whole new side to Ellen: it’s the first YA book where Ellen has, in part, departed from her trademark verse style and delved into using prose. That being the case, it was essential that the title stand out from her previous works (did you notice that this is the FIRST Ellen Hopkins book with a title longer than one word?!) and that the cover design be something fresh and unique, vastly different from any of Ellen’s previous books.

Well, mission accomplished! Now that The You I’ve Never Known is gracing bookshelves everywhere, we’re loving the cover design and we’re not alone — in fact, we noticed Spine Magazine highlighting it prominently in a “Book Covers We Love” post just this morning.  Of course, we’ve talked frequently on Riveted about how the road to creating a book cover is often long and perilous and coming up with the perfect cover for The You I’ve Never Known wasn’t easy. Read on to find out how Ruta Rimas, Ellen’s editor, and Natascha Morris, Ruta’s editorial assistant, came up with the idea for The You I’ve Never Known‘s amazing cover.


Ellen Hopkins’s newest YA novel, The You I’ve Never Known, presented us with a wonderful opportunity. For the first time in her storied career, Ellen wrote a YA that contained not only her signature verse but also prose. When we began thinking about the cover for Ellen’s thirteenth (!) YA novel, we—me, the designer, my publisher—had one goal in mind: to create something completely and utterly NEW. To go in a direction that would set this one apart from her previous books (all of which had bold, type-driven covers). We wanted to highlight her fresh writing approach by creating a unique visual approach to her books, too.

This change included a title-direction shift. This book is the first YA of Ellen’s that contains more than one word in the title. With The You I’ve Never Known, we hoped to capture a beautiful, lyrical title, one that matched the style of Ellen’s gorgeous writing.

The You I’ve Never Known is in large part about two young women, Ariel and Maya, finding themselves. We wanted an image that caught the formation of an identity in an unexpected way, or to put it another way, the development of someone from something. Could that mean an unformed watercolor portrait? Was that concept already too ubiquitous? (Answer: Yes. There are a whole bunch of YA watercolor covers nowadays). I spent a lot of time searching sites like to find an artistic direction and I found a piece of splatter art—related but not identical to watercolor—that I absolutely adored:

Watercolor art

© Hua Tunan 2012

In this image, we have everything on our checklist—something different for Ellen (Check!). An image of a young woman (Check!) created from something unexpected (Check!). What I loved most about the piece is the violence it portrays. This isn’t a beautiful portrait but it is stunning; it’s a person broken apart with intense force.

But the image still wasn’t right. The direction felt good, but the image direction didn’t seem big enough nor did it really inspire “formation.” And then we became stuck on this “splatter art” concept and thinking of any other visual representation became tainted by that. I asked my assistant, Natascha, to help dig up some out-of-the-box images for inspiration.



I spent a week or two combing the internet for ideas. These were some of my initial inspirations:

© Beverly Photo_History

Everyone on our team had loved the idea of a face emerging from something else so I kept that in mind. Eventually, I came across Chinese photographer Jason Chen, whose style is intriguing, different, and spoke to an element of Ellen’s storytelling: two points of views in different styles telling one story. His tightly interwoven photos are unique and off-putting. I thought they would be perfect, so I shared them with Ruta.

© Jason Chen


The way that Jason’s visual represents two stories with his woven photographs immediately caught my attention. How perfectly in sync with Ellen’s novel, a book that weaves together two stories with words. I couldn’t think of a better way to interpret the content than this direction. And these woven photos are SO cool to look at.

I met with our designer, Greg, and he and I devised a game plan. Find a portrait of a young woman. Cut up her pic. Weave the pieces back together.

It wasn’t easy. We found one picture and Greg took on the task of weaving. After we got to a point where we thought he had the perfect image, when we really looked at the final product, the picture we chose felt too romantic and wistful. We needed a more severe picture, one that directly connected with the reader. Greg searched high and low and eventually found what would be our final image on a website called

After some discussion, we thought it would be interesting to weave a black-and-white photo together with a color one, a way to nod to how the past influences the present. Tearing the edges of the pictures lends a sense of emotional turbulence and of impermanence, two important aspects of the book.

I decided to help Greg weave together some sample images to MUCH DISASTER.


My pictures all looked very alien-like and off-putting in all the wrong ways. Thankfully, by that point Greg had mastered the art of photo-weaving and was able to create a beautiful, stunning, arresting image that you find on the cover today! What do you think?  Let us know in the comments, and be sure to read our extended excerpt, you won’t be disappointed!

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