Not Every Book is Appropriate for Every Situation (And That’s Okay)

You recently read a book and it’s now your favorite thing in the world. You’ve bought every single edition there is, lined them all up on your shelf, taken a dozen pictures to share with your book buddies, and now your goal is to make sure that every person you come into contact with gets to read it, too.

And what luck! Your best friend is running a book drive for their local homeless shelter/hospital/teen center. It’s almost too perfect of an opportunity to get this favorite book of yours into the hands of more readers. But, before you go and buy 5 more copies of this book to donate, let’s consider a few things first.

Not every book is appropriate for every situation. And that’s perfectly okay!

Think back to that book you just read and now love with every fiber of your being.

Do you remember that chapter that included child abuse? Or maybe how the main character struggled with their eating disorder throughout the entire book? Or perhaps the story focuses on somebody dealing with the aftermath of losing their entire family in a car accident?

Reading about these situations might not be an issue for you, but for a lot of readers, it’s difficult.

But, Mari, part of the plot was difficult for me and reading about a situation similar to what I’ve been through helped me cope. Won’t it be the same way for others?

Maybe! But, also maybe not. And it isn’t our place to assume that it will.

I’m somebody that enjoys reading about heavy content I can relate to. It helps me feel less alone and it can help me heal. But for a lot of other readers, it can send them spiraling into depression, self-harm, unhealthy eating habits, and suicidal thoughts.

It’s a good thing there are trigger warnings! Won’t this help keep people safe?

Yes! Trigger and content warnings are incredible things! Unfortunately, though, the vast majority of books do not include these warnings anywhere inside. Instead, they are spread by word of mouth from those that have already read the book.

We can’t expect the person who will be distributing the donated books to be familiar with the content inside every one. I’m a blogger that spends the majority of my free time reading and talking about books daily and I don’t even know what is inside countless books.

And yes, there are databases out there listing content warnings for hundreds of books. Something like this could be used in these scenarios, but it isn’t foolproof. Here’s why:

  • A copy of the database could be printed and given to those distributing the books. But, there is no way to guarantee they will consult the list or pass on the information to the person on the receiving end. This also takes extra time from those doing the distributing that may not be available.
  • The person donating the books could put a note inside each one with trigger/content warnings. Again, though, this has the potential to take a lot of time (depending on the number of books) that the person simply might not have. It’s also possible that books with writing inside won’t be accepted because they then are not in ‘new’ condition. You could put a sticky note inside, but these tend to fall out.

Teens can handle so much more than adults give them credit for! Shouldn’t we be letting them decide what they can and can’t read?

I wholeheartedly agree with this! Teens can handle more than the majority of people think they can. We have to consider the situation and environment, though. Sure, that book with heavy content might help 9 out of the 10 people it could go to, but what if it falls into the hands of that 1 person that will suffer harm from it? Was it worth taking that chance?

We also have to consider that when organizations request donations, there are guidelines that must be followed.

These guidelines aren’t just for kicks, they are put in place to keep people safe. And they have to consider every possible situation to protect every person that walks through their door.

Trust me, I know this is hard. Thanks to some incredibly generous book friends, I’ll be donating a good number of young adult books to the children’s hospital that takes care of my son. When I was choosing books to go on an Amazon wish list, it hurt my heart to not include one of my favorite reads from this year, Deposing Nathan.

Nathan is such a powerful and important story, but it also includes some incredibly heavy content. I knew that if this book was donated in this specific scenario, it had the potential to do more harm than good. I tried to think of ways to make it work, but I had to accept that this was not the right situation for this particular book.

I’m not saying that books with heavy content shouldn’t exist.

Because that isn’t true at all. We need stories that make every reader feel seen, and that means having content that could potentially make people uncomfortable. But there are right and wrong times to be sharing these books.

If your friend was struggling in their recovery from alcoholism, would you take them to a bar because it’s your favorite place to hang out? No, you wouldn’t. You would consider the situation and understand that your favorite place to hang out isn’t always the most appropriate. It’s the same way with books.

As book influencers, we have a responsibility to readers. We should be doing everything we can to help keep others safe. And a good first step is to understand that not every book is appropriate for every situation. And that’s okay.

What are your thoughts on this? Should guidelines in these situations be respected or should we instead be trying to change them? Let me know in the comments!

15 thoughts on “Not Every Book is Appropriate for Every Situation (And That’s Okay)”

  1. I think this is such an interesting and important discussion. Trigger/content warnings are definitely important because it is up to that person at the end of the day to decide what they are/aren’t comfortable reading! Having that option there is so useful and means people can make informed decisions themselves before starting, especially if the blurb gives nothing away.
    Certain books definitely wouldn’t be appropriate in certain situations and it’s important to recognise and accept that, and I think the alcoholism/bar analogy is a good one to help understand this.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with all your views and the one where you said reading about it may or may not help people is one I faced recently. One of my friends passed away in an accident last year and I was reading Summer Bird Blue in which the mc deals with the loss of her sister in an accident and I cried a lot but it helped? I also asked another one of my friend who was best friends with that girl if she would like to read it, giving her warnings about the stuff and she really appreciated the warnings and the book as well when she was done reading 🙂

    Trigger warnings are so very important! Especially when something that doesn’t trigger one person can trigger another. One of my friends agreed with me that reading about loneliness can leave a profound effect on both of us and nobody ever gives out trigger warnings for that. Love this post and loved having this small discussion with you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I’ve never had something like that happen so I can’t even imagine how hard that must be but I’m so glad to hear that Summer Bird Blue helped! That’s one I want to read but haven’t yet. And I’m the exact same way. Reading things about what I’ve been through is very cathartic for me. I never thought about mentioning loneliness in my content warnings but I can definitely see how that would be needed! Thanks for the suggestion!


  3. I think this must be a culture thing. Nothing in America is labeled. YA or Adult. I’m .. ok let’s not talk ages but let’s just say I’m way in the adult stage and I have no recollection of ever seeing a rating or label on any book. Even when the PRMC (in the 80s) went haywire about labeling CDs for explicit content? They never went after books (which now that I think about it? That was pretty hypocritical but it never occurred to me at the time). I just think everyone is sensitive to certain things and for some people? Even if they have been through some things? It is cathartic to read about others going through it or reading about it fictionally. I am triggered by romance right now so I skim over it when it comes up in YA I really want to read (I just stay away from heavy romance YA or the romance genre) but I don’t expect that to be labeled on books. It is for me to judge. But I think that is just what I’m used to. The Alienist wasn’t labeled when it came out in the 90s nor was there a warning on the TV show and that content was way more extreme than anything I’ve read lately in Adult or YA. Movies are the only thing here with ratings.


    1. I don’t think that books should have ratings but they definitely need content warnings in them to help prevent people from being triggered. Only the reader knows what they can and can’t handle at that moment and they need to be able to make that decision.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I definitely agree that all readers are different. I have to remember that not all pre-teens/teens read Stephen King and Dean Koontz like I did. Somehow I went backwards in my reading now that I’m reading YA as an adult. Or maybe publishing went backwards on me lol.

        But I’m also just not used to anything having triggered warnings but movies. Also, in education there are concerns about trigger warnings causing kids to not ever exposing themselves to reading or working through traumas with materials that might support them in it. But I’m not sure how developed or realistic that research is. I’m also not sure that I’m ok with that idea unless they are being supported by a professional.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know right! My mom left me be because I hated all the things stuffed down my throat in high school and how judgemental the teachers were of me. So she was just happy I was reading lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent post! It’s what I keep in mind when recommending books to people because things that are okay with me might not be okay for others. I do try to mention in my reviews if the content has extreme stuff without spoiling because honestly, I need it too! I recently read a book describing the death of child in graphic detail and I wish someone had warned me about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Death of children is really hard for me to read about since I now have a son and that’s always something I include in content warnings. Thank you for doing your best to include content warnings in your reviews! They definitely make a difference. And content warnings are never spoilers. I’m of the mindset that if an author is using triggering content as a plot device that could be spoiled then something is definitely wrong.


  5. I think trigger warnings should be listed inside of books rather than on websites or through word of mouth. I know for myself there are sometimes I can handle certain books and other times I cannot so having that on hand when I’m preparing to read is essential. Thanks for sharing and starting the discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Content warnings definitely need to be listed inside books. I’m thankful for the authors that put them on their websites and reviewers who mention them but not everybody is going to see that. Thank you for taking part in this important discussion!


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