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. 🙂