Is it YA or MG?

Before the 4th, we were discussing differences between MG and YA rites of passage, which led me to ponder the differences between the two age groups in general.  (In case you’re wondering, I’m torn between making my current WIP MG or YA.)  So I Googled and came across many posts enumerating the differences.  Here are two of the main ones:

(1)  Age of target audience and/or protagonist—but not always.

Middle grade usually includes ages 8-12-ish; young adult includes 13 and up.  However, some publishers may target tweens (10-12).  And as a rule, kids like to read up. That is, the reader likes to read about older protagonists.

However, the division is more complicated than that. Just because the protag is a certain age (let’s say 11), doesn’t mean it’s MG—and not all middle grade (or young adult) fiction features a hero of the same age as the reader.

(2)   Focus.

Eleven-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds have very different concerns.  Middle graders are more focused on outward things—friends, family, belonging to a group, etc. Young adult heroes are more inwardly focused on issues like identity.

Other lists talk about differences in word counts, darkness, and subject matter complexity.  However, most of these—in my opinion—seem like generalizations (for lack of a better word) rather than actual differences. There are many fantastic middle grade exceptions to all of  these. The Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 870 pages long. Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book is about a boy with a murdered family living among the dead.  Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a complex middle grade fantasy that’s ultimately about the nature of God and the universe. 

What do you guys think? What are the main differences between YA and MG as you see it? 

(btw, I still haven't decided about the WIP. Guess I'll know when I get farther into it! )


Ishta Mercurio said...

Someone - not me, and it's way too late for me to try to look it up - on Twitter said in a #kidlitchat: "If it would be at all weird, for any reason, to read aloud to your kid, it's YA."

I agree with that.

Also, a number of the staff in my local bookstore have said that if they had the choice, the last 4 Harry Potters would be shelved in YA, and the first 3 would be in MG, largely due to shifts in subject matter and focus. Just some food for thought.

L.L. Muir said...

I'm working on a MG and my protag is worried about one thing--not embarassing himself. Everything embarasses him.

My son was pretty excited when he read a little. He said that was exactly what ruled his life when he was 10-12.

Other than that, I suppose it's awareness of the opposite sex that turns it into a YA. If your protag's a boy and he doesn't see girls as kissing material, I'd call it MG. If your protag's a girl and she notices that a boy is cute, she's already moved on to YA, no matter what her age.

Amber said...

I really like the way Lesli Muir Lytle describes it.

MG is going to be that which focuses on external or singular concerns and also lacks in sexual or too emotional, violent, or aggressive issues. YA, that can be open to a whole world of possibility but typically the protaganist is going to be a young adult themselves. There shouldn't be 40 year old protag's in YA.

PK HREZO said...

It's a great question, and having just attended a SCBWI workshop, it was explained this way: In MG, their is upper and lower, as well as YA. Either wone which requires world building can go up to 65k words. In MG, kids still believe they can change the world. In YA the characters should know better and be more involved with actual relationships.

Michelle Flick said...

I agree with Pk Hrezo, it's a great question. One that I need some clear (as possible defintions). I am beginnging to teach 8th grade, but have always taught high school 11 and 12. My princpal approached me and told me to be careful about what my students read (8th grader reading about sex and drugs). I got that, but where is the line? Thanks for this post, it gives me a better idea. Im going to be looking for some updates!

Angie Smibert said...

The whole romance thing is a good dividing line for a lot of stories.

Jan Dohner said...

I'm a long time media specialist with 1000 5th-6th graders at one school and 1000 7th-8th graders at the other.

I liked Amber's description. Kids do like to read about characters a couple years older than themselves but they are still interested in their own life's problems and concerns not those of a far older teen.

The biggest problem I'm having now is all the YA lit that is 9th grade and up. It's great and I enjoy it but I wonder if the authors really understand that kids that age don't read as much volume as the middle school kids. Middle school kids through about 8th grade, consume books. High school kids always complain they are swamped with homework and activities and sports.

When authors cross the line into really coarse language or profanity; blatant sexual situations; or really vivid violence, their books aren't going to reach those middle schoolers in their school libraries. I understand you have to write the book your way but F-bombs (ha!)are going to keep your story out of most middle schools for sure. Just an observation.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I think that the main difference is that first paragraph under focus. The outward versus the inward. Tells it all right there!