Swearing in Young Adult Books: The No @$!@ Truth


This caught my attention.

And seeing as how I’ve written two books for teens which contain the occasional F-Bomb, I figured this is as good a time as any to insert my humble authorly opinion on the matter. (Oh … head’s up everyone. I’ve also written a post-apocalyptic zombie novel for teens filled to the brim with swearing, guns, explosives, flying body parts, mortars, anti-tank weapons and infantry field craft. I suspect it would come with a warning label and possibly a padlock if it gets published.)

Here’s my official word on the subject:

It doesn’t matter.  Who cares. Moot point. Why are we even having this discussion?

This is coming from a guy whose version of POLTERGEEKS that was sold to Strange Chemistry Books didn’t contain a single swear word and whose editor said, “Yo … teenagers swear.”  Why didn’t that first version contain any cussin’? Because I was focused on the plot, the action, the romance part (which I suck at) and I didn’t really even think about putting any f-bombs, shits, pisses or goddammits into the book. And that’s weird because I’m an ex-soldier, I swear like a @!!!#$ and I did so when I was teenager, I might add. My now 23 year old son swore like a #@!%%!@ when he was a teenager, though not around me unless we were having a man-to-man talk about life, growing up and how much it actually @!$!@! sucks to be a teenager.

But seriously … warning labels? I’d strongly urge those who get all “protect the childreny” to click on this link here. It’s a WikiPedia entry and it tells the story of warning labels on music albums. See, back in the early 1980’s, Tipper Gore thought we teenagers were going straight to hell, would wind up strung out on smack and kick little puppies if we listened to bands like Twisted Sister. Here’s Dee Snider talking up the matter before a congressional committee back in the day:

Look, let’s pretend there’s a world where the actual concept of Young Adult books doesn’t exist. Let’s call it, oh … how about 1982. See … that’s when I was fifteen. That’s when I was first introduced to Iron Maiden, I got righteously hammered at Tim Oulette’s house, losing one shoe as I staggered home across 32nd Avenue North East in Calgary, and when I smoked my first joint. There was no Hunger Games to read. There weren’t any Young Adult book publishers. Nada. Zip. But I was a book lover and here’s what I was reading:

Stephen @$@! King

Dean @@()% Koontz

Peter @!@)! Straub

Vincent @($@! Bugliosi

Mickey @#@!! Spillane

Elmore @@!) Leonard

In short, I read books that contained sex, violence, gore and boatloads of cussing. Why? Because holy @!$%, there were books about scary ass shit, hard core detectives, punching out bad guys and all sorts of things my then fifteen year old mind was interested in. None of those books had warning labels. I’d borrow them from the library and no librarian stopped me from taking them home. I was reading books. BOOKS! Holy crap … a teenager that was actually reading.

Martin Chilton, the author of the column writes:

But you would want the book to succeed or fail on its own merits, not because youngsters are enticed to read it in the expectation that there will be a lot of foul language. Does swearing have an impact on sales of a book, I wonder?

The short answer: @!!$ yes, but not because there’s any anticipation of foul language. They’d buy it and read it just to piss off their parents for shit sake.

So publishers take note – my next Young Adult novel, kindly forget about cover art. Just slap a big-ass crimson label on the front with a warning that my book contains swearing, sex, drugs, violence and scary-ass stuff. Please, please, please do this. It will get me more sales and then I can have a best selling novel, I will be able to afford a fur coat, a gold tooth and there might be enough left over for me to get new hair.


Teenagers swear. They have sex. They do all kinds of things that we parents used to do once upon a time when we were teens. Circle of life, man. Rite of passage. It’s called growing up. And sometimes when I read columns like Chilton’s, I think that maybe the adults need to grow up too.

Peace out, yo.