OMFG, They Can Say That in YA?

Just the other week I got an email from someone who got very upset about a YA book that had some profanity in it. She went on to state, “Profanity of any kind has no purpose in any type of children’s book.”

She went on to say, “I never used bad language and neither have any of my children or their friends. Profanity doesn’t need to be there.”

Well, since I’m both an author and reviewer of YA novels, I had to ask her what exactly did she mean. Apparently, to her and some others, no YA book should have foul language as it doesn’t serve a purpose.

Apparently she hasn’t seen some recent YA TV shows like this one very controversial poster for the CW show GOSSIP GIRL:

My opinion?
Well, let’s just say I disagree. I think it depends on the book and character. For example with Ellen Hopkin’s books, which are edgy and deal with some very sensitive subjects such as abuse, there are some swear words but it feels real and not forced. **I love Hopkin’s books as she does a fab job of showing real characters going through hard and difficult things in their lives. My favorite book had to be BURNED, a story of a LDS girl who’s abused. The book spoke to me and I felt as if she understood what I’d lived through as a teen.

I know personally I hate it when I feel a book ‘sugar-coats’ an issue and/or has a character speak in such a way that comes off as unbelievable and fake. Most teens I know have a BS radar that can pick up this up too.

I write edgy stories too. In my one book EARRINGS OF IXTUMEA there was one scene I knew I had to write. I was sobbing by the time I finished it. Yes, it was raw, gritty and had some language that according to that one person should have no place in the storyline. But I knew it had to be there as it showed the reason Lupe’s mother turned out the way she did. So I kept it.

I do think you shouldn’t just drop the f-bomb all the time just for shock value either. I know I hate that when I feel I’ve been manipulated.

But that’s just me.

Agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency posted something similar on her blog that addresses this issue too:

I love how she addresses using a sexual term in a YA book:

…Does that mean YOU have to use it? No. Does it mean YOU have to allow your daughter to read books that contain it? No. But will it be fine to publish for high school students? For sure. Provided of course that it is right for the character, that it makes sense in context and you aren’t just randomly throwing words around…

I totally agree with Jenn’s comment. Just because you don’t agree with a YA book having profanity in it, that doesn’t mean you have to buy or read it. Also I feel it is the job of the parent to be informed on what exactly is out there.

So what are your opinions on profanity in YA?


I'm the author of the YA paranormal CROSSED OUT

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5 Responses to “OMFG, They Can Say That in YA?”

  1. What a great post, Kim! This is something I really struggle with and think about a great deal. My opinion is whatever the story needs, you provide – within reason. Writing younger YA means I walk a fine line. I guess it really depends on the story and the character. I’m curious what others think.

  2. Dennis Phinney says:

    Completely agree with Kim. Per advice from the late Oakley Hall, I dial back the profanity as much as I can while keeping it real. Per advice from James Rollins, I dial the profanity from the protagonist back even more. But if a character, especially an unsympathetic one loses a finger in a bandsaw, He can’t say, “Fiddlesticks, I lost my finger.” To the censors, I say, “Heck’s becks. Get a life.”

  3. LeeAnn says:

    Since YA speaks to an audience that can be quite young (as young as 10) I don’t think foul language should be used constantly. If its in the book a few times in appropriate places then Ok, but not if its in every page.

  4. kbaccellia says:

    Too funny, Dennis!

    Yes, LeeAnn, books geared toward the MG crowd or tweens, then no, I agree, profanity doesn’t belong there. It totally depends on the character and plotline of a YA story. If they just throw the f-bomb around to do that, then I agree it shouldn’t be there.

  5. LM Preston says:

    I totally believe there are boundaries that should be erected in some ya – when its in terms of ‘shock value’ for sales. But if the profanity fits the character or the act makes sense for the reality built within that world makes sense than don’t hold back. As far as personal beliefs, taste or preferences for books state the facts and why you the reader doesn’t like it, but be fair to others that may like that type of writing or situation.

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