Friday, February 26, 2010

What is YA literature? Middle Grade?

Kaye: Marilyn, you've had books published for the younger crowd. I'm working on a Young Adult series at the moment, but only because a few readers suggested my Neanderthal mysteries should be YA. Can you explain this market to me? Are the distinctions clear-cut?

Marilyn: Picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, YAs. Children's books come nicely compartmentalized into different categories -- or so you'd think. Picture books and chapter books are self-explanatory. Middle grade fiction refers to books written for kids in second to fifth grade. Or is it third to sixth? And YAs are about teenagers. Or does that
include twelve-year-olds? That's the problem. Everyone has a different age variation in mind.

Kaye: So, no consensus! What's your own opinion on the classifications? Middle grade first because that's what you've published.

Marilyn: Actually, I have published a YA. A PLACE TO START, which is out of print, is about a high school boy who discovers his mother's having a relationship with his computer teacher. But more about YAs later. The way I see it, middle-grade books are about kids in elementary school. The middle-grade protagonist deals with friends, bullies, family, pets, school, projects. My out-of-print book, THE FOURTH-GRADE FOUR, is about a boy who needs to wear glasses but won't get them because he's afraid his friend will make fun of him. In middle-grade fiction, as in all juvenile fiction, it is the child who resolves the problem, not an adult.

Kaye: That sounds like a good definition. How about YA?

Marilyn: The Young Adult novel is something else. The YA protagonist is a teenager and the subject matter can be abuse of any kind, romance, murder. You name it. I'd say the Harry Potter books are YAs. So is THE BOOK THIEF, a novel narrated by Death about a girl growing up in Germany during World War Two. Yet adults read both Harry Potter and THE BOOK THIEF. So what makes them YAs, you might ask. I'd say the protagonist's age, no explicit sex, and the fact that the novel is seen and experienced from the young person's perspective.

Kaye: Ah! I see now why my readers think my WIP can be for the YA market. Young protagonists and no (very) explicit sex. And I myself like to read YA books, too. Thanks for the clarifications, Marilyn.


  1. Interesting. I always thought YA stood for Young Adult. If YA is being targeted to 12- and 13-year old children, maybe it should be called Young Adolescent. And if it's for adolescents, I don't think it should contain sex, explicit or not. But that's just the mom side of me speaking.


  2. Melissa,
    I think that might be the mom side of you speaking. Kids twelve and thirteen read YAs as well as novels written for adults. A friend who writes cozies heard from a mom who said her 9-year-old is reading her books.

  3. Actually I think the YA market is now segmented into young-young adult and older young adult (in case it wasn't confusing enough!) My agent marketed my book about a 15 year old girl as young adult and was told it was more middle grade. And some of the YA out there now *does* deal with excplicitly sexual topics (The Rainbow Party or whatever it was called...) A new category is actually being formed --I've forgotten the name, but it's for those at the end of the teenage years through the early leaving the nest 20s.

  4. My understanding is the protag sets the grouping. I've been taught that your MC should be a couple of years older than your youngest desired audience but this also gives you up to your MC's age. So if you are writing for 10 to 12, then your MC should be 12-15. So a YA with a 20-22 year old MC would draw an audience of 18 to 22. If the MC is 18 then your going down to 16. Of course you are going to work up and down from this, but hopefully this gives you an idea or a place to start.

  5. Good info, Cher'ley! Makes sense. Thanks!

  6. Yes, I've read that kids will read "up" but not "down." In other words, a 16 yr old will read about an 18 yr old but not the other way around.