Language: cursing in YA books.

11 Jul

So, apparently earlier this week there was quite the debate on BBC Breakfast between authors GP Taylor and Patrick Ness over whether books should require ratings, much like movies. On one side of the debate was GP Taylor who is very much in favor of this and on the other side is Patrick Ness who adamantly opposes the idea.

I’m in full agreement with Patrick Ness, I don’t believe publishers should be required to label books with ratings (apparently over 800 authors agree as well, according to a petition signed on this website). I don’t think the ratings system works all that well for movies and I could see it being even worse for books. However, reading the debate triggered a thought I had while reading Miranda Kenneally’s debut novel, what about using cursing in YA books?

Her book, Catching Jordan, focuses on a female quarterback (you can read my review) and one thing that stood out for me while reading was an excessive use of foul language. It was jarring to me because it’s not often you find a teen book with multiple instances of the f-word and it took me out of the story for a moment when I came across it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-cursing in general. In fact, if you’ve ever met me in real life (or happened to play against me in an online video game) you’d know that I curse like a sailor, pretty much all the time. I like it, it’s fun and it usually gets my point across (I do keep my fouled language to myself around preachers, small children and grandmas). Yet, when I’m reading a YA book (or even an adult book for that matter) it’s not necessarily something that I want to see a lot of, even though I’m well aware that teenagers do curse. And some of them do it quite a lot.

After a lot of thinking about whether I was being overly sensitive or overreacting, I came to a conclusion. If the cursing has a direct impact on the story, I’m on board with it being included. A good example of this that I was able to come up with was Holden Caulfield in Catcher and the Rye, he cursed a lot, but it was a part of who he was as a character. If you took it out, his character would feel different and he would come across differently to the reader. Removing the foul language would have an impact on the overall story.

If the cursing doesn’t have a direct impact on the story or character, then I don’t really need to see it. For example, in Catching Jordan, if you’d taken out the curse words from the dialogue you still would’ve had Jordan. She would have acted the same, talked the same and responded to situations in the same manner. Removing them wouldn’t have had any impact on her character, or how the reader sees her character. And so the words simply felt superfluous to me.

Pretty much, my thoughts are if anything doesn’t move your plot along, or help develop your characters, you should cut it out. If that same something helps deepen the plot or display/develop certain trait your character has, then by all means leave it in. Regardless of what that something is.

And then let individuals decide what books they want to read without subjecting them to a reviews boards stuffy ratings. 🙂


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6 responses to “Language: cursing in YA books.

  1. Lauren@The Housework Can Wait

    12 July, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I agree with you. As with ANYTHING in ANY book, I want all the elements to serve the story. If it doesn’t serve the story, why is it there? “Because teenagers curse” or “because teenagers have sex” is not a reason to put either of those things in a YA book. Just because “teenagers” do it doesn’t mean ALL teens do it, and the most pressing question is, would THESE teens — you know, the ones in the story — do it? If it’s not in character, it shouldn’t be in the book, no matter the audience. I’ve read adult books with cursing and sex that felt totally out of place, not because it was “inappropriate” for adults, but because it didn’t serve the characters. And I’ve read YA books that contained both where it felt totally natural.

    As far as ratings go, I’m anti-that, BUT I would say it could come in handy sometimes.

    For example, I recently heard a story about a woman that swatted a copy of 50 Shades out of another woman’s hand in the checkout line at her bookstore. Why? Because she was buying it for her 13-year-old daughter, “for school.” “But it’s on her reading list!”

    Turns out the book on the list was Between Shades of Gray, and the mother didn’t notice the difference. Maybe a ratings system would have helped her realize her error 😉

    (This was just a devil’s advocate argument – I’m not pro-ratings for books. Just could see their merit on occasion)

    • Sarah @ Breaking the Binding

      13 July, 2012 at 8:26 am

      Oh wow, that is crazy! I can’t believe the mother couldn’t see the difference… that or the daughter was trying to sneak one by her mom! I can absolutely see the merit in those cases, but I still don’t think I love the idea of overall rating books. It’s a tough call when you lay out all the arguments though.

  2. Kristilyn

    11 July, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I think cursing can work in YA — or in any book — so long as it’s done right. Sometimes it’s waaay overdone and it really takes away from a story. I prefer it to come more naturally, like in everyday talk.

    But really, there shouldn’t be ratings on books like that! Though, some books do deal with really tough topics (like, say Wintergirls or Shine) and should have some kind of age rating on them, in my opinion.

  3. kellywiggains

    11 July, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    I am in total agreement with you. I think it’s all in the voice. If the cursing seems natural or part of the person’s character, I don’t mind it. When it sounds like it’s forced or used for shock value, then it annoys me. Now, where the line is, I’m not sure. Creating authentic voice is a true craft. Good thoughts today!

  4. leeanna c (@leaflette)

    11 July, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    “If the cursing has a direct impact on the story, I’m on board with it being included.” is pretty much my argument for anything in a book, especially something like sexytimes in something like Anita Blake. Too much and I can’t stand it, but if it adds to the plot or character development, or is integral, then yes. Cursing and everything else “bad.” Books do NOT need ratings!

    • Sarah @ Breaking the Binding

      11 July, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      I’m the exact same way, I am not in favor of censoring. Just wanting things in the book to be relevant to plot and character development! So glad you understand, I was worried people might think i was all “NO CURSING EVER”.


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