Why is the s-word in there? Well, here's the scene (in this case, I'm going to replace the s-word with shoot):
"Shoot," Hope said. She immediately covered her mouth. Nobody was there to hear her, but she'd heard herself and was surprised. She never said bad words. She prided herself on her self-control and her vocabulary. She'd never been in a situation where she felt so out of control or at such a loss for words..."
"Shoot," she said again. "Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot, crap, shoot. Ugggh!"
Hope noticed she actually felt a little better....
If you were counting, you saw the s-word is there 11 times. Those are the only 11 times in the book. So, why did I include it? Why not just write shoot in the book?
Hope is living through the scariest moment of her life. She's been off at a new school, encountered bullies and sorcery and a job she never wanted to do, and in this scene is in a cave and comes to a fork in the road. She is maxed out. Any self-control she usually has is long gone. She is scared. Scared.
Nobody I know has been in the exact same situation as Hope, because she's dealing with ancient magic. But I do know and know of many people - children and adults - who have been in situations that were so scary that they couldn't fathom how they would get through them. This might have been a terrible illness, loss of a home or loved one, or something else. And when we're really scared, we sometimes act differently than when we can think clearly. And in those moments, we sometimes say things that we wouldn't normally say. That's a real part of life that I think any reader can relate to.
And Hope recognizes that she "shouldn't be" using that kind of language. It's not gratuitous. The book doesn't make her look cool for saying it. I tried to show that when she felt powerless, going with her gut -- even if her gut surprised her with bad words -- could be empowering.
I considered writing shoot or darn in that section, but it felt like it toned it down too much. I asked parents of third graders for their reactions, and the ones I asked were not bothered by their kids encountering it. Also, while most of the readers are age 8 - 12, Hope is 12. She's not in third grade, she's in middle school. I also see it as an opportunity for family discussion. Just because it's in a book, doesn't mean it's okay to say. (Much like just because bullying is in the book, it doesn't mean it's okay to do.)
All that said, as a parent, a teacher, and a children's book author, just because those are my reasons for including it doesn't mean that I condone children using that kind of language. And I'm a big believer in parents being the ones who know their kids the best and making rules that are appropriate for them and their family. So I understand if having the s-word in this scene puts this book on your do-not-read list. But if it doesn't bother you, I hope you'll read it and share it.