Bookish News: Young Adult Novels and Swearing

bookishnews.jpgBookish News is a feature in which I scour the farthest corners in the virtual land known as the internet in hopes of learning what’s happening in the book world.

A new young adult novel has been quite a hit but has also caused some controversy.

When Mr. Dog Bites

Dylan Mint has Tourette’s. For Dylan, life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in – the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that escapes whenever he gets stressed. And, as a sixteen-year-old virgin and pupil at Drumhill Special School, getting stressed is something of an occupational hazard. 

But then a routine visit to the hospital changes everything. Overhearing a hushed conversation between the doctor and his mother, Dylan discovers that he’s going to die next March. 

So he grants himself three parting wishes: three ‘Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It’.

It isn’t a long list, but it is ambitious, and he doesn’t have much time. But as Dylan sets out to make his wishes come true, he discovers that nothing – and no-one – is quite as he had previously supposed.

A story about life, death, love, sex and swearing, When Mr Dog Bites will take you on one *#@! of a journey . . 

Apparently, this novel includes more than a few curse words throughout the story and some people say it should not be marketed to young adults as such.

The book’s language first drew media attention on February 4, when Telegraph culture editor Martin Chilton wrote an opinion piece addressing the language issue. Chilton wasn’t so much taken back by the obscenities – although his profanity list for a 16-page stretch of text is sizable – but rather he expressed concern that the publisher is using the fact of the strong language to publicize the book. “It is not as though publishers, Bloomsbury, are unaware of the novel’s content, which they have issued simultaneously on their YA and adult list… because they are using the swearing to publicise the book,” Chilton wrote. “Charlie Higson’ verdict (that the book is “funny and foul-mouthed”) is included on the press release along with two ostensibly humorous promotional slogans: “Welcome to the world of Dylan Mint. He’s going to take you on one *#@! of a journey” and “When Mr Dog Bites is controversial, hilarious and #@!Δing brilliant! (Source)

Martin Chilton, raises a point: should we be marketing profanity for young people? Is it the same as glamorizing it? Because of the controversy two versions of the novel have been made, one for adults and one for young adults. The only different between the two is that on the cover of the young adult novel there is a warning label that claims EXPLICIT CONTENT.

So now the question is at hand, should we start assigning age classifications like they do in films? The author of the controversial novel has something to say about that,

Conaghan said he considers a young reader anyone up to age 14 and argues against putting age labels on books. “We have to be careful,” he said, “because I have taught many younger teenagers over the years with a level of maturity and intelligence that belies their years. It may be inaccurate to simply measure ability, emotional maturity and erudition through age range alone. That being said, I fully understand why the warning label is on the jacket of my book and I have not rallied against having it on there.” (Source)

He makes good points here, we can not judge on age alone. Patrick Ness, author of A Monster Calls, also had some input on the issue.

Author Patrick Ness who has written for adults as well as for teens, weighed in on Twitter. He said such classifications are tricky because reading ability doesn’t always match age. Young readers, he added, are also exposed to what he sees as more problematic content, such as “a naked Miley Cyrus licking a sledgehammer.” (Source)

There’s also the issue of putting readers off novels with age classifications. The younger age is going to want to read the books designated for older ages and the older age isn’t going to want to touch books designated for the younger age.

Personally, I think we need to rely on the old fashioned system: word of mouth. If the language adds to the story and enhances the character then that’s fine. Its honest and like Ness said, kids these days are exposed to much worse. But if there seems to be cursing just for the sake of cursing and distracts from the story write a bad review, don’t recommend the novel.

What is your opinion? Should we add age classifications to novels? Share below and happy reading!

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16 thoughts on “Bookish News: Young Adult Novels and Swearing

  1. I agree that relying on word of mouth is probably the best way to go. Otherwise, we could quickly end up down the path of censorship and book banning, which is something I am strongly against. Have you read this book? I’m tempted to read it just to see what all of the controversy is all about. Really interesting post! 🙂

  2. What a great post! I’m personally of the mind that we should not have age classifications on books. Like the author stated maturity and age often do not go hand-in-hand. I also agree with the above comment that it could lead to something much more insidious like book banning. Great post! So interesting!

  3. I saw this book on NetGalley, and I may have to go request it now just to see what it’s all about. I think swearing is something every parent/reader needs to determine on their own. Me at sixteen versus my sister at sixteen are two very different things: I had no problem with swearing, but my sister does. So putting an age limit on books seems to be counterintuitive to be honest. I read Stephen King and mostly adult novels when I was 14, but now that I’m 18 I read 99% YA novels. It just depends on the person and their interests!

    • Exactly! No two people are the same so we can’t use the same measuring tape on everyone. Parents know their children better than anyone, so we should just rely on their judgement.

      I don’t think it will happen. It would completely change the book market and the people in that industry will never allow it. (At least I hope not). Thanks for reading Kayla! 🙂

  4. I hate this kind of thing, it’s such a non-argument and it really irritates me that people are still complaining about swearing in Young Adult novels. YOUNG ADULTS SWEAR. DEAL WITH IT. Umphh. And the same goes for age ranges, I think it’s ridiculous and it makes me bubble over with anger each time I think about it.

    Having said that, you did a great job at arguing the issue!

    • I know! People need to get over themselves and face reality. Teenagers, like any other human beings swear and personally I think it’s better to read a book that’s honest versus one that tries to stifle culture.

      I’m glad you agree with me Becky, hopefully the rest of the book industry sees sense too. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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  6. Love this discussion topic!! I absolutely hate the idea of a classification/rating system. There’s so much more crazy stuff going on with our kids than to worry about them reading a curse word. That being said I can’t stand to read a book where the characters constantly swear the whole way through. I don’t mind swearing in YA, but I’d rather it have a purpose to be there. For example I thought in the book The DUFF by kody keplinger the characters just swore as a part of their everyday language and that to me got annoying. But that’s just a personal thing… some people dont mind swearing in books and some people get really offended. I guess I wouldn’t mind a small disclaimer on the back in fine print that says “this book contains swearing or a sex act”. But only in fine print otherwise I would get totally annoyed.

    • Yes, I don’t like reading swearing when it doesn’t serve any purpose, writers are suppose to be better than that.

      I also can’t stand the idea of classification/rating system, like someone said before its the slippery slope that will lead to censure.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate it! 🙂

  7. This book actually sounds really interesting. And I kind of feel like, kids are exposed to profanity everywhere anyway. I mean, glamorizing it won’t just happen from a book. They’re much more likely to hear it in songs or on TV, unless they’re meticulously watched. Also, middle schoolers and high schoolers cuss like sailors anyway. There’s no way they’re getting through school without hearing bad language. I don’t think hearing/reading curse words glamorizes it though, and if they use words to market and lure readers in then the book has a message of how difficult tourettes and those words can be, I think it will counter the glamour? Maybe? I don’t know. But it is an interesting situation and post =)

    • I know, I moved this book up my reading list after reading the article, because I have to see what all the fuss is about now.

      Right! Kids are exposed to so much nowadays, especially because we are always plugged in to mainstream media via phone, computer, tablet or TV so hiding it in books isn’t going to help anything.

      I think if the author uses the swear words in a novel in an organic way and not forced than its perfectly fine.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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