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?