Firstlife Review and Thoughts on Cussing in YA

I really enjoyed this book. I was captivated by the premise of it, and it’s definitely one of those books that gets better and better as it progresses. It does have cussing, A LOT of cussing, and we’ll get into that a bit later. I did really enjoy reading this book, and I’m so looking forward to diving into Lifeblood this weekend!

Wine Pairing

 Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Tenley Lockwood is faced with an impossible decision that she will have to live with for the rest of eternity in Firstlife, so why not get a taste of forever yourself while you get your read on with this Forever Moscato?

*All wine recommendations are for strictly for those of legal drinking age only.*

It’s All In The Details

  • Title: Everlife
  • Author: Gena Showalter
  • Publisher: Harlequin Teen
  • Pub Date: February 23, 2016
  • Pages: 467

Goodreads Description:

25785357ONE CHOICE.

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies.

There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…


My Review


This book has been on my backlist for a while, and I’m so excited that I FINALLY got around to reading it, and that I received an ARC of Showlater’s upcoming Lifeblood, so that I don’t have to wait to find out what comes next!

Tenley (Ten) was such a fascinating character. It was interesting to see her personality after having undergone the abuse and confinement of Prynne Asylum. I felt like Showalter’s depiction of a character in those circumstances was incredibly raw and real. Her portrayal of the other characters in the Asylum with Ten are equally well-done.

I felt that the whole concept of having a Secondlife after what we experience here on Earth, and one in which you have must choose to belong to one of two warring nations during your Firstlife or face dire consequences, was very creative and thought provoking.

Showalter really brings the world to life and does an excellent job at building tension by constantly increasing the stakes for Ten as she continues to struggle to choose which nation she wants to belong to once she dies, and also by constantly pushing the nations of Troika and Myriad closer and closer to all-out war.

She presents the pros and cons of both nations in a way that will have you flipping back and forth between which nation you would want to belong to yourself as often as Ten does.

I highly recommend this book, and I am so excited for Lifeblood to be out in the world on February 28th!!

Let’s Talk Cussing in YA

I really, REALLY hope that some of you will comment on this portion of my review, because I am, admittedly, a little bit torn on this topic and would love to talk it out with all of you.

So there is A LOT of cussing throughout this book, particularly when Ten is in the Asylum. Now, in my opinion, that cussing makes complete sense in the situation, and I do think that most people, teens or adults, forced into that situation would have to develop that type of persona in order to survive their circumstances.

Now there are some particular curse words in this book that many people would consider offensive, and so the question I’m asking each of you today is, is it okay to have offensive language in YA?

If this were a book for adults, and it didn’t have that kind of language, people would be criticizing it for its lack of realness, rawness, and believability, but since this book is YA, do those same rules apply? Do we hold YA novels to higher standards than adult novels?

Do YA novels have more of an obligation to either reflect what our society should be or highlight that the bad things about our society are truly bad than adult novels do? Do YA novels need to set an example for the youth of our society, or do they have an obligation to expose them to the reality of our society and let them make their own decisions regarding morality?

I’ve been thinking through these questions over and over since I started reading this book, and honestly, I can see the pros and cons to both sides of the argument here. Ironically, I kind of feel like Ten trying to choose between Troika or Myriad.

So what are your thoughts? I’d truly love to hear them!

Cover Rating


This cover is absolutely stunning. One of my very favorite YA covers in all honesty. The colors scheme is great. The hourglass perfectly reflects both Ten’s limited timeframe in which she must make a decision that will define the rest of her existence, as well as the realms of both Troika and Myriad. Ten points to Gryffindor for whoever designed this beauty.

Swoon Rating


While this book is very much about Ten and her journey and struggle to make the biggest decision of her life, it definitely has some SUPER swoony moments. While both Archer and Killian are incredibly swoon-worthy, I’m glad that Showalter didn’t go for an all out love triangle and made it pretty clear, at least in this book, which boy Ten prefers. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good love triangle in the right book, but I don’t like to have them in EVERY book.

About Gena Showalter

g18final.jpgGena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of the spellbinding Lords of the Underworld, Otherworld Assassins, and Angels of the Dark series, as well as two young adult series–Everlife and the White Rabbit Chronicles–and the highly addictive Original Heartbreakers series.  In addition to being a National Reader’s Choice and two time RITA nominee, her romance novels have appeared in Cosmopolitan (Red Hot Read) and Seventeen magazine.  She was interviewed on Nightline and has been mentioned in Orange is the New Black.  Her books have been translated in multiple languages.

She’s hard at work on her next novel, a tale featuring an alpha male with a dark side and the strong woman who brings him to his knees. You can learn more about Gena, her menagerie of rescue dogs, and all her upcoming books at or

Photo by Debbie Bunch Photography

Other series written by Gena:

Alien Huntress, both adult and young adult

Intertwined, young adult

Atlantis, paranormal romance

What did you guys think of Firstlife? Have any of you read Lifeblood yet? And how do you feel about cussing in YA?

58 thoughts on “Firstlife Review and Thoughts on Cussing in YA

  1. Bookworm Ink says:

    As far as the cussing goes, I mean I personally don’t have a problem with it. I think it can make characters more real and more relatable. I’ve read characters who cuss when they get angry and ones you are just potty mouthed. Either way I think everyone gets to a point where they need to just let it out. I also thinks it brings into light that you will meet people who just cuss. I disagree with books having to set examples because let’s be real no other media does. Music doesn’t, movies don’t, yes some do so in that case I think it’s truly up to the author. Great review !!!

  2. What's She Reading? says:

    Your thoughts on YA are really interesting to me. I, personally, don’t care for cussing in books. For me, I don’t feel that it really adds anything to the narrative that can’t be expressed in another way. But your deeper question is whether or not YA literature is obligated to be realistic or idealistic. It’s hard because YA is read by such a wide range of ages and maturity levels. I do believe there is an age that is too young to be exposed to all of the nastiness in the world, but that age differs depending on the person. I guess I would say that authors should right however they feel is appropriate for their book while parents just need to be aware of what kind of materials their children are reading and what they’re emotionally ready for.

    • YAandWine says:

      This answer is perfection. I’m not offended by MOST swearing in YA, but I do feel like because it’s YA it is held to higher standards than other forms of media, even other forms of literature. I do feel like writers need to feel free to write the book that’s in their hearts, but I also feel like they do need to be careful with which curse words they’re choosing to use. Words are powerful!

  3. Kristy Petree says:

    I’m okay with cussing in YA, as long as it isn’t forced into the story or excessive. I mean, in reality, teens cuss! Now, I’m older and I don’t have kids, but I don’t like the idea of sheltering teens (or tweens) from the real world. I think certain words (the f word, words for male and female anatomy when actually used to refer to those parts and not just used for name calling, etc) should be used sparingly, though. For example, I’m less offended by p*ssy when guys use it to refer to one another as a wimp than I am when it’s used to refer to girls and their bodies.
    Sometimes YA has NO cussing and it loses some credibility. One of my favorite series is Twilight but, let’s face it, it was a little too clean for a book about so many teens. “Holy crow!” <— yes, I'm making fun of one of my favorite series, but who actually says that? I don't think I've heard anyone of any age say that lol. But it was a good series for the younger crowd with parents who wanted a safe, clean series for their child.

    • YAandWine says:

      I’m okay with cussing in YA too, but I guess there are some particular words that I do think authors need to be careful using. Particularly if they’re racist, sexist, or discriminatory in any way. I do think YA is held to higher standards, but I also thing YA literature has more power to change people’s outlook on the world and other people than other forms of media do. With great power comes great responsibility, right?

    • YAandWine says:

      Also Stephenie Meyer went to BYU, so the cussing in that book makes SO much sense. I’m from Utah, so I can say with authority that we totally make our own, more mellow, cuss words here.

  4. ayyylocke says:

    I JUST bought Firstlife two days ago and I am TOO excited to read it! The cover for the sequel is actually breath taking, just life the first.
    As far as vulgarity is concerned, I’m personally never offended by it. On a broader spectrum, YA usually targets the teens and 20s age group, the one where “Oh I’m 13 now and I need to read something more ‘mature’.” (Even though,
    Jokes on them, kids books are eternal)
    By that age, kids are watching movies from PG to PG-13 and nowadays, PG-13 movies allow at least one f-bomb. Not to mention the world we live in being so real and uncensored (as it should be, to be honest). So if language is in some way an issue in YA lit, I hardly think avoidance is a logical approach. To each their own, I respect you no matter what. One important thing that growing into an adult has taught me is that the world exists in its own raw, uncensored realness regardless of your readiness to accept or deny it. Words are words, and I think we can all agree that curse words aren’t the ONLY words that can make an impact. 🙂

    • YAandWine says:

      Great points here! I’m not personally offended by cursing in general either. My main concern is words that are racist, sexist, or discriminatory in general. And I’m not saying there are a ton of them in this book or anything. I think I’m more pondering on the topic in general. The swearing in this book is more just general cuss words, but there are some that I could understand people taking offense with. I do think snooks and words have the power to change the world for better or worse, but are authors obligated to try to change it for the better? I just don’t know!

  5. Beware Of The Reader says:

    So cussing and YA… I don’t like cussing in general. It’s sometimes expected when you’re reading a book about bikers, ex-con etc. but when the hero is cussing every five words it puts me off my read. I like it even less in YA BUT… if it fits some character why not? If the guy/girl comes from the slums, has a hard life and is surrounded by harsh people it’s expected from them. You would not want then to speak like a princess 🙂 So pros and cons like you said but in my books less is more LOL

  6. Didi Oviatt - Author says:

    Great review! I’ve never heard of this one, but it sounds good, Ill definitely look into it! Mostly I just love your choice for wine on this one!!! Its one of my FAVS!! I’m a light Moscato gal through and through

  7. lmtomlinson says:

    There are some times where I feel like the cussing and other sexual content goes too far in young adult books. I don’t have a problem with it in general in adult books. I do think there is something to be said for “toning” it down in some cases for a young adult novel. I think of a young adult book almost as a rating guide like PG-13. It seems like if a book is “young adult” then it should fit with that standard. Just thinking about what I would want my young adult kids reading.

    • YAandWine says:

      This brings up another great conversation, because YA is not necessarily defined only by age but also by content. So if that language is in there should it be YA or should it be considered NA. I mean, YA is not a genre anyway. It’s an age label that accompanies genres, and that’s another hotly debated issue. Great points here! Thank you for commenting!

  8. Pen & Parchment says:

    Love your review! This book has been sitting on my shelf for a while now, I think it might be time to move it up on the TBR! And in terms of your discussion on cussing in YA, I definitely think it’s okay. As a teenager myself, I know how much kids curse (even more than adults, in a lot of cases), so I think it would be unrealistic to have a YA book without any cursing at all. For stronger cuss words, I think it really depends on the character using it and the situation they’re in. I’ve read YA books before where an F-bomb was on every page, and that got to be not only annoying, but pretty offensive. There’s always a balance to be had! 🙂

    • YAandWine says:

      Thank you so much for your comments! I think the points you’re making here are spot on, and I really appreciate you contributing to the conversation. It is the stronger cuss words, or the racist/sexist/discriminatory ones that I’m mainly concerned with. Do they make the book more authentic compared to everyday life, absolutely yes! Should we try to change the world for the better with the example we’re setting in fiction? I’m not sure…

      • Pen & Parchment says:

        I definitely see your point about setting an example. Particularly with racist/discriminatory words I think it’s important to only use them in certain contexts, if at all. While other cuss words may be relatively harmless, those words can have very hurtful effects, especially on kids/teenagers. It’s really a great topic for discussion, I’m surprised I haven’t see more about it!

      • YAandWine says:

        Thank you! And I really appreciate you participating in the convo. I might do a post just about this with some of the amazing comments I’ve received on this today. It’s such an interesting conversation and a really important one too.

  9. stephaniesbookreviews says:

    In my younger years, cussing was a major punishable offense in my household, so if I was a YA today, I would probably be pretty scandalized by a book that had a lot of bad language and wouldn’t have been allowed to read it if my parents found out about it. I’m 33 now, so I know that my childhood was a lot different than what kids have today (and I was admittedly pretty sheltered), but I still don’t think it’s necessary. Even in adult books it bothers me if there is a ton of it, though it won’t make me stop reading like it might have done when I was younger. So I guess my opinion is that it’s never necessary, but I think it’s ok in YA if used sparingly for effect instead of every other word. Great topic!

    • YAandWine says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, Stephanie. I definitely understand what you’re saying. I’m mostly concerned with words that discriminatory in nature. Not that there’s a ton of them in this book or anything. But I just keep going around and around on whether or not YA authors should have the responsibility to try to change the world for the better by either eliminating that language from their books or making it obvious that language isn’t okay. Benjamin Alire Saenz does a brilliant job of making it known that those words are widely used, but also pointing out that they aren’t okay. But should all authors be obligated to do that? I don’t know. I do know that words are incredibly powerful and the words we read do absolutely have an impact on us whether we’re young adults or adult, adults. 🙂

  10. The Hermit Librarian says:

    I think that there’s a certain obligation to be realistic if you’re going to use cussing. It can’t be too much nor too fake (I’m not sure I can give a good example of fake here; I hope you know what I mean). I don’t have a problem with it appearing because that kind of language exists and young adults use it, whether or not adults acknowledge it or not.

    • YAandWine says:

      I agree with that completely. If it’s included, it needs to serve a purpose. Either contribute to the character development or the plot in an important way. I don’t like pointless language in books whether it’s cussing or just over the top descriptors.

  11. rusticwolvesandpaperfoxes says:

    As a woman who actually uses cuss words a lot I have many different views on this. I can tell that most of the followers on here get the point why cuss words are thrown into literature. For me, cussing isn’t bothersome until it is said so excessively that you can’t really understand someone’s point. Cussing for me shows my emotional expression (if I am mad or upset or hurt by something going on in my life). I use it to make my point a bit more omnipotent or harsh so that they person I am talking to can understand my frustration. Sometimes, I use it nonchalantly just because it doesn’t bother me. I guess it all depends on the context of the situation. I totally get the regard of YA being held to a higher standard. YA doesn’t necessarily have to be raw or gritty, but it does bother me when a character is raging with anger and the author gives them a lame expression to use. Readers sometimes need that punch to the gut, that edgy language so you can really feel what the character is feeling. Cussing doesn’t take away from a good story if it is used correctly. There are many people in society who view cussing as “taboo” so to speak, but if you take away the meaning behind specific cuss words you simply just have another word to express thoughts, emotions, or feelings. I guess I am just desensitized to cuss words because of how often I use them. You want some real ugly and violent YA literature? Then you should take a gander at Jason Myer’s YA novels lol they consist of all the ugly in the world (sex, drugs, murder, rape etc etc). They are very heavy and raw…unlike anything I have ever read and yet I still oddly love them. I feel like Myer’s novels are on a more relatable aspect. Sometimes you need to be shown the ugly before you can get to the beautiful.

    • YAandWine says:

      I definitely don’t want to give the impression that I’m against cussing or anything, because my family and friends would totally call me out on my own ability to curse like a sailor at times. LOL. I’m more concerned with words that are racist, sexist, or discriminatory in any way. They are unfortunately a very real part of the society we live in, but should they be in books? And more specifically should they be in YA books?!

  12. Mandy says:

    It is an interesting concept of cussing in YA. I feel like I heard a tonnnnn of it in high school, so why shouldn’t it be used in order to make characters more realistic? I personally take no offense to it, but I know people do. And I think that automatically takes out a portion of people that reads thing, and then becomes the debate of whether it is classroom appropriate since so many people use YA in high schools and even middle grade. I’m not really sure what to think. Good discussion and review!

    • YAandWine says:

      Thank you! I’m not really sure what I think yet either TBH. Cussing in general, I’m fine with as long as it is necessary to the character or plot. But offensive/sexist/racist comments in YA, I’m not really okay with. Again not saying this book has those, this is just a larger discussion. 🤔🤔🤔

  13. Donna says:

    Okay first of all, this cover is wow and your wine pairing so spot-on!!!
    I love the idea of an afterlife, or life after death and having to choose where you want to end up.It sounds fascinating, and I’m happy the idea is served with a good main character!
    As for cussing, I do feel as books reflects life and adults are not the only ones using cussing, whatever parents may hope for! Sometimes it is even emphasized to make a bigger impressions among youngsters who feel the need to replicate the adults and add a layer! So I probably wouldn’t mind.
    Great post!

    • YAandWine says:

      Fantastic points. I’ve really enjoyed discussing this with everyone. We have such an intelligent group of bloggers and it’s been so great to get everyone’s input on this topic! Thank you!!!

  14. ignitedmoth says:

    Great review. 🙂 This sounds like such an interesting and creative book!
    I’m really glad you brought up the issue of cussing in YA. It’s a highly debatable topic, that’s for sure.
    Personally, swearing doesn’t bother me in YA, but I know it is something the can offend a lot of readers (or even the parents of some of those readers). People of all ages swear in real life, so to me it just feels like an organic part of dialogue for some characters.
    Real life isn’t always pleasant or polite and I think it is important for literature and other forms of art and media to be free to reflect this. I can understand though that this is a touchy subject for a lot of people when concerning YA since the ages of readers vary so much. I grew up in a home that was very anti-censorship so I’ll admit that I may think more lightly on this topic than a lot of other people. Very interesting subject with a lot of things to consider. Thanks for bringing up such an excellent discussion point. 🙂

    • YAandWine says:

      Thanks so much for your comments. You bring up some extremely valid points. It has been such an interesting discussion. Cussing is definitely an organic part of language. For me personally, I’m good with it as long as it isn’t discriminatory in nature. I mean, I’d be lying so hard if I said that I don’t swear or that I didn’t when I was a teenager.

  15. bookendsandendings says:

    Hmm the cussing in YA is an interesting question! Personally I dislike reading lots of swearing, as for me it can add an aggressive tone to the book which I dislike. However, I do think that no swearing at all probably isn’t reflective of the teen demographic! Balance is key.

  16. sophiethestark says:

    I’ve seen this one around the blogosphere and was instantly intrigued. An afterlife sort of life sounds so interesting!
    About the cussing, I personally don’t mind it all. As long as it, like you said, makes sense for the story/scene and fits the character’s personality, then sure, go for it. But that’s me speaking for myself. In my experience, the more you make a big deal about something, the more power you give to it. So the whole sheltering thing seems a bit unnecessary. Kids/teenagers learn all sorts of things these days, and books are definitely not the problem.
    More often than not, though, authors either go overboard with cussing or make it a complete taboo to the point of creating such a sterilized book one will not even feel like reading it. A story needs to feel real, period. And if certain situations require cussing to make it so, then hey, I’m all for it. Just keep it simple and natural.
    Phew, sorry about the long reply! I really enjoyed your review (as per usual) and am kind of excited to try Firstlife! <3 Also, I really like that we won't be getting a love triangle hahaha

    • YAandWine says:

      Thanks so much for commenting, Sophie! I agree completely! My only caveat would be that certain words that are discriminatory in nature need to just be eradicated from our language altogether, and I don’t want to see them in books. But just general cussing, is very much an authentic and real part of our language. Excluding it entirely does make books lack a certain amount of authenticity for sure. And I hear you on the love triangles. They’re feeling a bit tired at the moment. But I am still okay with them in the right story.

      • sophiethestark says:

        Well, I both agree and disagree with you on that. I would very much like if discriminatory words became completely extinct too, however, certain situations/characters would inevitably require them for that authenticity to take place. No matter how offense/derogatory they are.
        Historical fiction and non-fiction, for instance, or if an author were to write about an uneducated, racist character (among other examples). It’s just not possible to abolish slur and expect a book to still feel as realistic because, unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.
        Would that hinder my enjoyment? Probably not, so it really depends on the book and the way it is handled.

      • YAandWine says:

        I can definitely see what you’re saying. I think as long as it’s clear that the discriminatory language isn’t being encouraged than I’m more okay with it. Like if it’s the villain using the words, or if the author makes it very clear that the words aren’t okay even if they’re widely used. Benjamin Alire Saenz does such an amazing job with that in The Inexplicable Logic of My Life.

      • sophiethestark says:

        Yes, absolutely! I think that would be a great compromise.
        I haven’t read that book yet but it’s awesome that you’ve already experienced that 🙂 Which just comes to show it’s achievable!

  17. Thoughts on Fantasy says:

    Great review, I’m keen to read this book! And I don’t personally mind cussing in YA, though I haven’t encountered it often. That said, in some of the high fantasy series I’ve read the swearing can be pretty crass and macho (vivid insults and metaphors involving words like c*ck, f*ck, p*ss and a*se), which suits those characters because they are criminals or hardened soldiers, but I think would feel out of place or crude if done to that extent in a YA novel by a YA character.

    • YAandWine says:

      Thank you! It really is a good book. I LOVED the concept behind it, and I’m super excited to read the sequel. I don’t mind cussing in YA either as long as the words aren’t discriminatory. If they are, they I think the author should make it clear that those words aren’t okay. Benjamin Alire Saenz does the best job of that out of any author IMO.

  18. TeacherofYA says:

    I’m not surprised bc I read Alice in Zombieland by Showalter and her characters have the mouths of sailors.
    I think it’s fine…but I wouldn’t have books with lots of swearing in my classroom. And that’s too bad bc some are very good.

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