Friday, March 25, 2011

Young Adult vs. Middle Grade

The Wikipedia definition of Young Adult Fiction is, fiction marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughly ages 14 to 21. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but beyond that YA stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres. If you look for the Wikipedia definition for Middle Grade fiction, you won’t find one.

Some of the defining points between MG and YA are the age of the protagonist, intended audience, subject matter, and word count.

Age of the protagonist and intended audience:  Typically, middle grade is intended for readers ages 8-12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range.  The reason for this:  while an 8-year-old would have no problem reading about a 12-year-old protagonist, a 12-year-old may be reluctant to read a book about an 8-year-old.

Subject Matter: MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. They do well with books they can relate to. They are still focused inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes can range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Kids at this age are also easily distracted,  so you want a faster pace and short chapters.
Young Adult novels deals with underlying themes and more complicated plots. It allows teens to examine deeper issues, what their role in life is, the differences a person can make, the importance of relationships, coping with tragedy, etc.  Protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. These books generally are more gritty and realistic and the teens choices and actions drive the story. You see less parental influence.

Word Count:  Middle Grade used to be 20,000-40,000 words, some say around 50,000 words.
Young Adult is generally more around 55,000 to 80,000 words.

Exceptions:  So while there are defining differences, there are also exceptions.
Harry Potter and the Twilight series definitely exceeded the word count. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold has a fourteen-year-old protagonist in what is considered a higher end YA or even adult novel.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, although intended for a much younger audience, the protagonist is an adult, a literal –minded housekeeper, and it definitely works for this series, making it a fun classic!
And what about those hybrid graphic novels that are so hot right now? I’m betting those fall under the normal word count, making room for all the illustrations.

With so many cross-over genre books for these age-ranges, there’s something for everyone to read and write. What differences do you notice most in MG and YA?


  1. This is an excellent break down. As an 8th grade teacher, normally i would recommend a MG grade book to a 6th or a 7th grader. Depending on the content, I would recommend some YA books to my 8th graders. Sometime I tell them to wait until the book comes out in paperback and their in high school to read a book.

  2. One of the things about MG that is so cool is that it is SO varied in terms of subject matter and length. As a MG author, I find that very freeing. I can let the story be the length it wants to long as Harry Potter or as short as Sarah, Plain and Tall.


  3. What I think's interesting is that often the language doesn't matter. Some YAs use very simple language and some MGs are sophisticated with sentence structure and the like (I'm thinking Mysterious Benedict Society here). Hmmm...for me it's mostly the content and the main characters' ages.

  4. Good post, Rose. You know, with my first book I shopped it as YA for a couple months before I realized it was MG. Also, that book was 86K, so it was WAY off base from a debut MG. This was at the very beginning of my journey, so ignorance was to blame. Once I determined it was MG I received more interest, even with the length. Important, though, is the fact that once you've built a name for yourself, most of the rules related to length fly out the window (think Riordan, MacHale, Rowling, Mull).

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  6. Oops! :) I've heard the difference between MG and YA described as: MG concerns finding one's place within the family; YA concerns finding one's place in the world.

  7. I think you've summed it up very well. I think age of the main character, focus of relationship: more inward to family or outward to place in the world, and element of romance are all distinguishing features.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!