Recently, I picked up Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire, and I was surprised to see a trigger warning posted not once, but twice, before the first chapter for violence and sexual assault. Along with this, there were helplines listed for these issues as well as an LGBT+ helpline. This was all before I even reached the first chapter.
I’ve read a few books in the past that leave helplines in the back of the book, which I’m always happy to see, along with the occasional age stamp on the back, warning that under fourteens might not be ready for the violence inside. But never have I seen trigger warnings. I’m sure there’s other books that have trigger warnings in them, but this was the first book I’ve noticed it in. Seeing it made me sit up. I was so glad to see it there, presented for anyone picking up the book, so they knew what they were getting into rather than have it sprung upon them when they were least expecting it.
Honestly, it was refreshing. It should become the norm, in my opinion, for all books, but particularly YA. Over the last few years, YA books have been delving into darker topics—which is good. They’re exploring important topics relevant to teens and, representing a wider range of experiences and people. But with these topics can come triggering issues—racism, homophobia, ableism, sexual assault are just some of the few topics that not everyone will want to read about, and not everyone will be able to.
Specifically discussing YA books, why are we not making trigger warnings more common, if not essential? The YA community may have a habit of forgetting that YA books are designed for teenagers and young people, but with that in mind, why are we not protecting them from harmful topics that can trigger them?
When it comes to video games and movies, teenagers legally cannot buy media with themes that are deemed ‘unsuitable’ for them. I don’t necessarily believe that the themes within YA books are unsuitable, but there with the age restrictions on other types of media there is a warning. Books don’t come with that despite the dark and often graphic scenes. There’s no need for age restrictions, but there should be clear warnings so people know what they’re getting into.
The book community has gotten increasingly better at posting trigger warnings when they notice them in books they read, but obviously, these tweets won’t reach everyone, neither will articles or reviews. Many people just jump into the books without looking them up, so they would have no idea of any warnings.
There has been some discussion on Twitter of implementing trigger warnings and of course the classic argument of ‘snowflakes’ and sensitive millennials suggested against it. If there weren’t any warnings before, why would we need them now?
The YA industry has grown considerably in the last decade. It’s truly become a community designed especially for teens and young adults. There were few books designed for this age category ten or twenty-plus years ago. It is still a relatively new, growing form of media. Before the difference between children’s and adult’s book was rather straight forward. Children’s books—while sometimes addressing difficult topics—often steered away from them or did not go into as much detail. With YA books, this in-depth exploration of topics and experiences of teens is rather new. The issues discussed are crucial and important, but can be hard and upsetting to some. So why do people not want to protect children and young people from harsh topics?
While I believe trigger warnings should be applied to all books, YA in particular should take up this issue. People shouldn’t be forced to read something that can bring back trauma or upset them. They should know what they’re getting into so they can decide whether or not they want to read it, or if they’re not comfortable to read it. It should not be a surprise.
The other point people have raised against trigger warnings is that it spoils the book. But these issues—people’s identities and trauma—should not be a plot twist. They can be a plot point and important to the book, but they shouldn’t be the big reveal designed to shock and wow the reader.
Overall, trigger warnings should be more common in books, especially books aimed at youths as YA books are here for teenagers to enjoy, not forced to read topics they’re not comfortable in reading. Applying trigger warnings to the front of books isn’t difficult, it doesn’t ruin the book, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. It only has benefits. If we have content warnings for video games and shows and movies to protect children, why can’t we give content warnings for books?
Side note: pick up Girls of Paper and Fire. It’s incredible!