Okay, confession time: while I’ve always been a huge lover of middle grade, for many years I never had that much interest in YA. I had nothing against it, of course. It just wasn’t what I was personally interested in reading. But a little over a year ago, my book club, which is usually dedicated to adult literature, decided to start a YA subset, and suddenly I was poring over YA bestsellers like Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fifth Wave, etc., etc. And I have to admit, I love them! Really love them. Yeah, I’m hooked.
Most of the books we end up reading in my YA book club seem to fall into the “high concept” category. I’ve heard “high concept” defined a number of ways, but it all seems to boil down to this: high concept is a story with a hook. Not a quiet, coming-of-age type story, but a story where the premise is key. It can usually be summed up in one sentence in which the often blockbuster nature of the story is evident. For example, I just finished reading the YA time-travel All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill. (Loved it!!) I can easily come up with a summary that conveys the intrigue of the plot in one sentence: Girl in 2013 tries to keep her best friend alive after an attempt on his life, not realizing that an older version of herself from the future is the one trying to kill him.
Reading all this YA lately has me comparing it to the world of middle grade, and I can’t help but notice that the stories often seem “bigger” in YA. I’ve heard many people in the industry describe the difference between middle grade and YA (besides the age of the protagonist) this way: middle grade is closer to home and more inwardly based. The protagonist usually faces conflict that has to do with their everyday lives, such as conflict with their parents, siblings, and friends or problems at school. In YA, on the other hand, external events typically play a much larger role in triggering the internal change experienced by the protagonist. The scope is larger. Often the main character is starting to step outside the world of his or her childhood, and conflicts and consequences are more substantial and wide-reaching.
So lately I’ve found myself wondering: does the “larger” nature of YA lend itself better to high-concept storylines? Certainly we see high concept in middle grade. Look at books like Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter. Nathan Bransford points out that even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is high concept: kid wins a golden ticket to a mysterious candy factory.
Still, is it me, or does YA often seem a lot more "blockbuster-y" than middle grade? Of course, as I’ve confessed, I’m still pretty new to YA, and these are largely the musings of sleep-deprived mind after midnight. But I’m curious what others think. Does YA lend itself better to high concept than middle grade? And is that good or bad for the world of middle grade?
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