SWE@R!NG in YA Fiction

A few months ago, I was sent a copy of Patrick Ness’s The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by the wonderful team over at The Guardian. I took it north of the country with me to visit family, and on the way back to gloomy London region, I began to really read it. And on the way back, my dad who was driving, looked over at me in the passenger seat and said, “Oh look, it’s a naughty word.” He pointed to a line that used a phrase to do with a mother and a word that rhymes with ducker. I’ll leave your imagination to run riot with that one.

I picked up a copy of Remix by Non Pratt that’s been sitting waiting in my local Waterstones for the last week, and started reading it on the journey home. Page 8 and the swearing kicks in.

I personally don’t mind it. It’s not as if it’s your nan who gets a bit angry now and then who starts to swear every second word, and if it’s not your nan, you’ve got someone you’ve met who is this person. Don’t lie to me.

I was also shopping online for books recently and found The Numbers trilogy on offer, but a lot of the reviews were very critical of the language used in them, so much so the site had to take action and pre-warn people before they bought the book that there was some language that some readers could find offensive present and that readers should be aware of that.

How did we get to this stage? Does YA use too much offensive language? Is it really necessary? Should we just take it as it is or should we really be saying something about it?

It’s not just books though. Last year the BBFC announced that their new classification guidelines for rating films in the UK were to include relaxing the amount of language that’s allowed in 15 rated films, and toughening what’s allowed in U films. The same group of people who will watch 15 rated films are also extremely likely to read YA books.

So does YA fiction actually swear too much?

Instead of me being a boring idiot with this article and me rambling, I wanted to throw this open to you. Here’s what you told me on Twitter…

One of those that I found particularly interesting was that you seemed to think that YA needs to be representative, and some people said that books needed to be careful with the discriminatory language but swearing is fine.

To be honest, I agree.

Let me ask this question to you now to think about: where do we draw the line?

Let’s think about Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for a second. This was one of my favourite books of 2014. When I got my Kindle for Christmas, I bought it instantly, despite it being about £4 (no, I don’t pay that for e-books now, I’ve learnt my lesson!). This book is about racism in America during the Civil Rights Movement.

Robin Talley is a white female, and the book features plenty of racist language. I’m not trying to create a link here, but let’s consider for a second that Lies We Tell Ourselves is OK: racist words that in everyday life most people won’t say, are OK, because we’re using them in a context there. Whilst I agree with you that YA needs to tone down the discriminative language, I’d ask: what books actually use it?

Charlie Higson was asked what he thought of swearing (and other typical things in YA like sex and violence) at YALC this year, and he said, and I quote, “Children have a certain expectation of what to expect in a book and we’ve got to give them that.” The man who wrote the Young Bond books disproves of censorship: if you’ve got it, write it!

So in answer to my own question, it looks as though you guys decided that actually, YA doesn’t swear too much. If teens today use the language, why shouldn’t the books reflect it?

Here’s something to think about for next time: where do we draw the line with language in YA fiction? Is there even a need for another pesky line? Let me know! (Twitter: @yalovemag and it’ll get passed to me or email the Magazine at admin@yalovemag.com and it’ll also get passed to me as well!)

View Joshua's Profile