Is $&%*# acceptable in YA lit?
By Morgan on May 22nd, 2012
I am obsessed with words. This is, of course, the reason I’m a writer and a reader at heart, and why I still tote around an old, massive copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, ever since I learned how illuminating it is to trace the linguistic roots of words and see how they evolved into the words we use today. Words can can spark revolutions, inspire change, and summarize our deepest, most intimate feelings. The power of words is why I take a serious interest in using my own words as precisely as possible.
And yes, that includes the occasional curse word.
A study by professor Sarah Coyne, released last week via the journal Mass Communication and Society, analyzed the use of profanity in 40 young adult books on the Young Adult (YA) bestseller list. Her research showed that, while “profanity in teen novels varies greatly from book to book,” those characters that used foul language tended to “also be the most popular, attractive and rich,” and “tended to be of higher social status, better looking and have more money than their non-swearing counterparts.”
In other words: all the cool kids are doing it.
I am, as Megan called it yesterday, a bit of a genre junkie, and for me, that genre is (mostly contemporary) YA. I have read books with no noticeable curse words, books with occasional curse words, and some books where characters who curse feel perfectly natural. Those are the kinds of books where the characters are so vivid, and so well-written, that I couldn’t imagine them speaking any other way than the way the author chose them to speak.
Teens — the intended audience for YA novels — in the process of forming their identities, and sometimes that includes testing out ways of speaking and exploring just how much impact their voices can have. It can be a way teens start to challenge their surroundings, an event that “is characteristic of identity formation for all adolescents and young adults, especially in Western culture,” Dr. Steven Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says in the article from ABC News.
What do you think — does cursing have a place in YA lit? And what does it mean that the characters who curse the most in YA may be the aspirational characters (on the surface) readers are supposed to look up to?