I'm in my twenties. I read YA. Like, all the time. And am I embarrassed about carrying around, say, Elizabeth Rudnick's Tweet Heart? Well... it depends. It depends on where I am, who I'm with, and how I happen to be feeling that day. Covers give a certain message about the story underneath and while, as Phoebe points out, that message is intended to be something of a promise about what is contained in the story, one snapshot can't capture 60 thousand words. The incredibly complex The Hunger Games is not summed up by that gold-on-black image of a mythical bird. The cover gives one idea. In the case of Tweet Heart, it promises a cute love story. In the case of The Hunger Games it promises something decidedly darker -- if I had to guess I'd say a science fiction story set in a future world. And I wouldn't be far off, but is that how you describe The Hunger Games to somebody? Uh, no. Because while there are plenty of science fiction/dystopian novels set in a future world, only one of them is The Hunger Games. And Tweet Heart? I'm not going to tell someone it's a cute, light love story. No, I'm going to tell them IT'S A NOVEL WRITTEN IN TWEETS!!! AND ONE OF THE CHARACTERS LOVES STAR TREK!! (Obviously I'm trying to sell the book to... myself.) But you get the point. Cover does not equal story. It's a representation, sure, but it's the rare cover that actually captures the essence of a novel.
The cover's job isn't to sum up the book. It's to get you to look closer, to pick up the book, to buy the book. It's an advertisement for a product that is, essentially, black marks on white paper. While the best covers pick up on a particular part of the story, that's not a requirement and, in fact, it doesn't always help. Until you've read The Hunger Games, you don't know how significant the cover image of that bird really is. Sometimes it's only after you've read a novel that the cover becomes amazing.
All of this is maybe (definitely) getting away from the question if are YA covers embarrassing? Really though, there's not one answer for that. Maybe you cringe when you walk into the YA section and see all those glossy, shiny covers with girls in pretty dresses. Maybe you love covers that are a big more ambiguous, a bit abstract or artsy or have illustrations instead of photographs or any one of a dozen other cover styles out there. Personally I love YA covers. Sure, there are a few that make me shake my head but for the most part I think they're the best covers out there. But then, I'm partial to the genre in the first place, and that plays a big part, I think, in our reactions to a cover.
So what do you guys think? Are YA covers embarrassing? Do they do the books justice? Love them or hate them?