There has been something on my mind ever since I wrote my discussion about needing trigger warnings in books. Well, it was more of a question I had. Are triggers always bad? Are books that contain triggering material bad? Sometimes, is it those books that can be potentially triggering the ones that are the most important and powerful? Sorry, I guess that was a few questions.
A part of me would have to say yes to the questions I posed. Some of my favourite books are triggering, but that doesn’t make me love them any less. And then again, there are some books that I’ve found really important and powerful, but didn’t ‘enjoy’ because they were quite triggering. And then there are the books that we can all agree are harmful — those that discuss mental illness and other triggering topics in such a hurtful way that it could never be twisted so that we view those novels positively. But those aren’t the books I want to focus on today.
When Hedda discovers she is pregnant, she doesn’t believe she could ever look after a baby. The numbers just don’t add up. She is young, and still in the grip of an eating disorder that controls every aspect of how she goes about her daily life. She’s even given her eating disorder a name – Nia. But as the days tick by, Hedda comes to a decision: she and Nia will call a truce, just until the baby is born. 17 weeks, 119 days, 357 meals. She can do it, if she takes it one day at a time…
There was a particular book that got my train of thought moving. That provided the metaphorical coal to this discussion in my mind. And that book was Countless, by Karen Gregory. It’s book about a teenage girl, who is struggling with an eating disorder, discovering she’s pregnant. She battles with her eating disorder and tells herself that she will let herself have the baby, and then she will go back to her usual eating regime. A lot of the books surrounding eating disorders that I’ve read have been quite triggering, as those novels allow you into the character’s mind and you hear their toxic and dangerous thoughts. But just because these novels can be ‘triggering’ — a word with mostly negative connotations — does that mean these novels shouldn’t be written?
So yes. Countless was confronting and raw, and, at times, very scary. It put you into the character’s mindset, and that was a very dark place at times. While I’m not saying that this book, or books like this one, are for everyone, what I’m trying to say is that they’re important. We need to know what people suffering from mental illnesses are going through in order to create empathy. We need to understand that these illnesses can be all-consuming and deadly, and we shouldn’t treat them lightly or with a lack of respect. Perhaps to write about mental illnesses in any ‘lighter’ way would be to minimise the severity of their impact on a person’s life and therefore disrespect all those living and battling with that illness.
Some other novels that I’ve read which can be triggering but are definitely very important and powerful books are Girl in Pieces and Under Rose-Tainted Skies. While I found both of these novels triggering, that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend them to people. Of course I believe it’s important to warn readers of potential triggers and I do think that novels should contain trigger warnings, I don’t think that these trigger warnings should come with negative connotations or discourage the general reader not to pick the book up. It’s important to convey mental illness in a realistic and genuine manner, and it’s impossible to do so sometimes without being potentially triggering to those dealing with similar things. But what’s important is that authors write both with respect and candour, and readers should aim to pick up #ownvoices novels where possible.
Sometimes those books that can be triggering are the most accurate in the portrayal of living with a mental illness.
What are some novels with realistic and genuine portrayals of mental illness? Do you think triggering books should be labelled ‘bad’? Are you someone who would stay away from certain triggering books? Let’s chat below!
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!