Category: Bookish News

Bookish News: Young Adult Novels and Swearing

Posted February 13, 2014 in Bookish News / 15 Comments

© The Day Dreamer and Candy Eater

Bookish 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!