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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Words on Wednesday: Teen Talk in #UKYA

Dialogue is one of the things I notice most when I read: unrealistic conversation will turn me off a book quite rapidly. And, as it's one of the'English Language' things I teach, I really notice when dialogue doesn't quite square with characters' age, or regional or socio-economic background.

I thought today I'd share a few examples of recent UK YA novels which are particularly authentic in their use of teen-speak. For any other Eng Lang teachers out there, extracts from these are good ENGA3 analysis practice - and might just encourage the odd student to pick up a novel...

Hollow Pike by James Dawson (my review) may contain fantasy elements (witchcraft), but the characters sound exactly like many of my sixth form students. Since a key theme is bullying, bitchy comments and witty comebacks feature particularly highly in the carefully crafted dialogue of this third-person voiced novel.

When I Was Joe by Keren David (my review) is a first-person novel which demonstrates a keen ear for teen talk. Interestingly, both this and Hollow Pike feature a character who's moved to a new area, so there are some characters whose relationships are very well established and others who are relative strangers.

Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton is a realistic contemporary novel (my review is coming soon, but short version: a great read) which captures the teen voice beautifully. This is another good choice for first person narration with a realistic teen feel, as well as sharp dialogue between characters.

I think one of the things that is really interesting about these (and other) novels that are successful in their depiction of teen language is the relative lack of up-to-the-moment slang. Of course, there is quite a lag between writing a book and its publication, but also slang can date really quickly. Authenticity is achieved via things like speech tags (... so he's like 'I'm leaving' and she's like 'fine'...), qualifiers (it's well good), alongside realistic depictions of teen life such as social hierarchies shown through labels (freak; ginge etc). All these things are likely to still signify teen culture and speech for the next few years, whereas more specific slang (maybe "reem", for example...) is likely to firmly place any novel using it in 2011-12.


  1. Thanks Beth - will definitely read those role model books for teen voices. Relieved that slang need not be up to the minute! Speech tags and social hierarchy through nicknames sounds authentic - at least I'm doing some of that in my novel!

  2. Thanks so much for including Della, Beth. On the subject of slang, have you read E Lockhart's Fly on the Wall? To get around the issue of slang dating the book, she made up her own. It works really well.

  3. Oh I do love this post, it's really great to see a post focusing specifically on UKYA :)


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