One of the questions my students ask a lot: Is it ok to swear in books for children and young adults? My short answer is: yes. Of course. In some cases, it would be patronizing to the reader not to do so, if the moment truly calls for it. One of my writer friends pointed out (and he is absolutely right) that when Violet’s father curses out Titus toward the end of MT Anderson’s marvelous, poignant Feed, that it is a crucial moment, one that best expresses the sorrow and rage of a man who has always valued proper words, proper speaking, and education so highly. To edit that out would have been a sin.
Different writers have different rules of thumb. Mine is that I never swear in my middle grade books. Maybe it’s the parent in me. For YA, sure, I’ll swear— but only if I feel it’s necessary, if those words are natural, and they can’t be replaced.
The real value of doing this, I think, is the reminder that every word should be on trial for its life in a book. Do you really need it? What is it doing there? What is its effect? Its strength? These are questions I try to ask myself all the time.