When I was in my twenties and clawing my way through college, I had a friend. (Shockingly I had more than one. Surprises even me.)
For her sake, we’re going to call her Sally.
I was talking to Sally one day about books. We had wildly different tastes in literature. I had developed a distinctly pretentious view of YA novels (a view which I no longer hold,) and tended to see them as inferior. My books were better. Darker. More world-building, well-written characters, less sue-ism. I remember during a conversation one day I asked Sally why she tended to only read YA novels. The answer put a massive dent in my superiority complex, and it also made me realize how fortunate I’d been in my life.
Sally was a victim of assault. She couldn’t bear to read literature with those themes in it, because it sent her into panic attacks. YA novels tended to be less likely to bring up the topic.
I have a complicated view of tossing assault into a narrative. It often has the same effect of tossing gore around in a slasher film: it’s cheap, repetitive shock value. Like any tool, I think it can serve a purpose. But it can also be like using a hammer when you need a wrench. It’s the lazy man’s way of creating darkness, the easy way of making it appear that your fictional world has high stakes. The Game of Thrones will not be remembered for the prevalence of these scenes, and if they are all a writer takes as a lesson from books such as those, they’ve only skimmed the surface and will never embrace the fullness of what the literature has to offer. There’s a reason I watched the first Saw, but never bothered with any of the others.
For all of that dither, I realized how utterly depressing it was that Sally was forced to avoid so many wonderful books for fear that they might bite her. That they might make her spiral back to a place no one should ever be forced to visit. It never truly occurred to me just how much could be taken from you in a moment. Entire worlds of stolen joy.
So here’s what I’m going to do for Sally. When I read a novel, I am going to rate it based on characterization, plot, and worldbuilding. But I’m also going to include something I call my gerfunkle scale.
One gerfunkle means that there is no mentioned or written assault in the entire book. It’s completely void of such scenes, and readers can trollop through the fields completely free of fear.
Two gerfunkles means that there is mention of assault. The scene will not be drawn out and graphic, but the themes will be present. I will do my best to describe precisely what that means in each respective novel.
Three gerfunkles means that there is explicit assault in the novel. It is the highest gerfunkle rating. I’m letting you know the field has mines in it. For this rating in particular, I’m going to include specific page numbers. In this way, people like Sally can choose to simply skip over those sections of the book entirely.
I am not doing this because I think these people are weak. They aren’t. They’re strong – far stronger than I will ever be. This is no different than being considerate of a war veteran when playing with fireworks. They deserve respect and compassion, and this is my attempt at giving both.
I love you, Sally. I hope you’re doing well out there.