What the F**K? Language in YA.
As an author I belong to a number of different writer organizations, forums, and message boards. And no matter how long the organization or group has been running some of the same questions are routinely asked by members. The one that sticks out most being some form or another of, “Can I swear in my YA novel?” Which at first glance seems like a pretty cut and dry answer. Teens swear so, sure you can swear in your book. It’s your book after all.
But hold up. It isn’t so easy.
In December of last year a very popular YA book was banned from Katy, TX schools. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas. As soon as this book hit the shelves it’s been on the NY Times Best Seller list and is holding strong.
The official back cover copy reads as follow:
“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
This book couldn’t have come out at a better time. People need this book, and they need the conversations this book brings about. So why was it banned from Katy ISD?
The official reason was for “inappropriate language.” Yes, you read that right.
To say I was shocked when this happened would be an understatement. Since I live in Texas, I was privy to this being covered by my local news station, and while watching the two women on the screen, my shock quickly turned to anger. One of the women held a copy of the book in her hand and said something along the lines of, “I didn’t read it, but as I flip through there are a number of inappropriate words.”
What the F? If you are looking for something nine times out of ten you’re going to find it. Maybe instead of flipping through the book, I don’t know, you sit down and actually read it.
But the thing that really bothered me is the fact that these people were quick to judge this book, with no mention of how there’s “inappropriate language” in a majority of outlets our children use for entertainment. With no discussion on why this language was chosen, and how it fits the narrative of the story being told.
Luckily there was considerable amount of backlash to this banning, and more people, even in Katy, TX vowed to read the book.
So it begs the question, “Is it okay to swear in YA novels?” What are your thoughts?
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