Swearing in YA books is one of those talking points that never seems to go away. Some publishers have reservations of letting their authors use them in their book. Librarians say that they receive complaints about the ‘coarse’ language in some books supposedly aimed at children. And today, a parent rang to complain that a book her daughter took home had the word ‘fuck’ in it.
Said daughter is in year nine, so she’s 13/14. Said daughter, as it so happens, is someone I told off for swearing in the library once. Now where on earth did she learn such language, do you think? Probably from the morally degenerate books I’ve been stocking in my library, if her mum is to be believed.
The simple fact is: kids swear. Simple as that. And guess what: it’s not just this generation either. My dad told me how he, aged 11, went ‘fucking hell’ in front of his best mate’s mother once. She thought he was such a nice boy! This was in the 1950’s. The reason some parents might not think their little darlings go round swearing, and thus they put all sorts of plans and schemes in place to hermetically seal them away from it, is because their kids are bright enough to know they shouldn’t swear in mummy and daddy’s presence. In the playground, when playing football/watching movies and eating ice cream with their mates (the debate over gender stereotyping is for another blog post), or in any scenario where an adult isn’t present, they use language that would make an Australian marine do a double take.If we want to get kids reading, we need to give them books they can identify and empathise with. So you have to give them characters that speak and act like they do. I work in a posh all girls independent school, and I’ve overheard a few expletives from them in my time, said in a plummy Surrey accent of course. So why all the fuss? We should be able to trust them to figure out for themselves when bad language is and isn’t appropriate to use. In a YA book, with a teenage protagonist, it most assuredly is.
Gratuitous swearing for the sake of it is going too far obviously. It loses its impact for one thing. Nor am I saying all YA writers should start having their characters swear. It's up to the judgement call of the writer in question. But when used properly in YA books, it's use is fully justified. I'd even go so far as to say it has literary merit.
I’ll only do a U turn on this stance if a publisher insists I remove all expletives from my novel before they give me that six figure advance…