I got this polite message from a reader yesterday, and it deserves so much more than quick ping back. In the event anyone else is having similar concerns or thoughts, I wanted to put my response up for everyone:
Hello Audrey. I wanted to say thanks for writing a fun book, but next time can you please have no cuss words. I really loved the book until the last 4 chapters. It was fun and innocent until the party. The book says it is approved by Clean Teen Publishing, but it wasn’t clean at all those last chapters. I really loved the adventures they went on, just please in the next book have no cuss words. If you do please don’t list this as a teen book.
First of all, thank you for getting in touch. I’m glad you enjoyed the adventures the Hoffman sisters and their friends had in Neverland.
“It’s such a bitch getting through the cafeteria lines… Anyway, I just wanted to let you know… my brother Roger’s coming down and going to buy us a whole bunch of booze.”
These are lines from Jay in the first chapters of The Neverland Wars. Early on, I wanted to let readers peek into Jay’s world—one where teens swear and try to get a hold of alcohol for parties. These are two things that are almost intrinsically linked to the teen experience for a lot of people, and that creates a radically different world than that of Neverland. What I touch on in the beginning with these lines, I wanted to fully explore in the final four chapters for contrast with Neverland.
My goal with this book was to paint an accurate and realistic picture of the high school experience, which includes finding out some of your peers engage in more mature behavior than you. This is very much a book for teens, because teens need to make decisions not just about whether or not they will swear, but how they will react to being in a world where people do swear. Gwen doesn’t curse anywhere in the book, and in Neverland you never hear anything more than “snowsalt” and “eelgrass” as expletives. The world of a child can be, and often is, sheltered from mature language, but our teenage years escort us out of that clean and innocent world adults have artificially constructed for us where nobody ever swears. Gwen is, in this circumstance, just like you. She doesn’t swear, but is encountering these words because she has left her Neverland. She, too, has to decide how she will react to this. Not associating with or reading anything with mature language is only one of many options.
As for whether or not the book itself is “clean,” that is a word that means something different for everyone, which is why Clean Teen publishing always includes the Content Disclosure at the start of all their books. That way, readers can decide whether books are clean by their standards. Some people didn’t like the scene where Gwen was nude, others are upset with “fuck.” One person was offended by my description of a kiss, and another was troubled by the inclusion marijuana at the party. These are all things that teens have to face (if only conceptually) and I stand by my decision to include these elements in a young adult book. (Although it bears mentioning I wasn’t the one who decided it was a teen book…“teen books” are defined in the publishing industry as books “with a teenage protagonist,” so be aware that the phrase teen book or YA rarely has anything to do with the content of the book.)
If you decide you want to avoid books that contain mature language, I highly recommend looking through Clean Teen Publishing’s catalogue for books that are rated “E” for everyone as opposed to “M” for mature teen readers. Goodreads is also a great tool for readers who want to find clean teen books, because many reviewers discuss the drug, language, and sexuality content of books… and there are many sites out there dedicated to collecting lists of clean books.
This problem which both you and Gwen are facing, encountering swear words in otherwise good places or people, is a quintessentially teen issue, and I hope that The Neverland Wars has been food for thought for you on this matter. The series will continue to have some characters in reality who swear, and Gwen will continue to figure out how she wants to react to that, the same as all growing up people do, whether they read this book or not.
Thank you again for your message, and I hope you have a wonderful time with whatever book you pick up next!