When the Spoiler Is the Hook

Kenny Brechner - April 20, 2023

Handselling a book whose reading experience would be materially diminished by spoilers can be a particularly difficult challenge for a bookseller if the book’s intrinsic strength is related to elements that would be inconsiderate to broach. For example you might ask why reading Sarah Everett’s The Probability of Everything brought up for me the topic of circumventing damaging spoilers, and all I could morally say was that it is an amazing book and you should read it yourself straightway and find out.

Sure, to promote the book one could just elide the dynamic surprise element or go big on description so as to say that its brilliant and novel use of an unreliable narrator is used as a lever to humanize the impacts of inhumanity with remarkable force. By tightly maintaining focus on its insightful and resilient young narrator the story extends from the personal to the cultural and communal with far-reaching effect. And so forth. One might feel more latitude if pitching the book to an adult who is purchasing it for a young reader, but it would still be wrong. Nonetheless, the susceptibility of The Probability of Everything to having its reading experience diminished by spoilage is a tricky but ultimately happy constraint. After all, having a book to share the power of whose impact on the reader would rival that of the earth’s on being struck by a giant asteroid is a rare and desirable responsibility.

The book also made me ask myself if there are other great children’s books which have a similarly fraught relationship with spoilers? ┬áSure, there are many books with an important secret. You could certainly thoughtlessly spoil Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, Marie Lu’s Warcross, or Melissa Albert’s Hazelwood, but it is easy to talk about and promote those books without doing so. A book like Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon is a toughie to be sure,┬ábut I can’t think of another book in which the spoiler is the hook quite as strikingly as it is in The Probability of Everything. What are the most spoiler sensitive books you’ve promoted?

5 thoughts on “When the Spoiler Is the Hook

  1. marjorie

    When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is another one; I suppose you just have to sell the vivid NYC-in-the-’70s latchkey-kid setting, the great writing, the gripping mystery/freaky story. Sharing the single best descriptor of the central THING of it gives away too much.

  2. Sarah Julsonnet

    Oh my gosh. Trying to book talk or quickly sweet talk as I call it, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. So SO difficult!

  3. Sally

    Erin Bow’s book Simon Sorta Says was written this way – with the reveal right towards the end. I read it as an ARC, with no advance warning and loved it. It really worked. But her US publisher, Disney, decided the spoiler was in fact the hook and have publicized it that way. So book talkers don’t need to worry about whether to do it or not. The decision has already made for you.

  4. Eric B.

    A series of books that don’t get nearly the attention they deserve is William Boniface’s Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy trilogy. Beyond the fact that they’re wickedly funny, the three books really read as one continuous tale with multiple twists and turns, including a jaw-dropping reveal in the middle of the second book that still sticks with me more than a decade after having first read it.


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