Anna Staniszewski is one of my favorite guest bloggers because she always brings such insightful topics and discussions. Today, as she celebrates the upcoming release of her newest book The Prank List (The Dirt Diary #2), Anna is talking the difference between middle grade and young adult fiction. Welcome, Anna!
by Anna Staniszewski
I get this question a lot, so I thought I’d tackle it here. Let’s start with a couple of definitions.
“Middle grade” is generally for ages 7-12, though it can skew a bit younger or older depending on the project (short chapter books vs. longer novels). Middle grade usually features protagonists in elementary or middle school, and if it deals with topics such as sex or violence, those tend to happen off-screen.The ending, while not necessarily happy, should be hopeful.
“Young adult” generally features teen protagonists (14-19) and is often a coming-of-age story for readers 12 and up. (The actual readership of YA varies quite a bit. You might have fifth-graders reading it, but you also have adults who read nothing else.) Issues such as sex and violence can be shown on-screen and can even be of a graphic nature, though you often won’t get as much detail as you would in adult books. Endings, while often hopeful, can sometimes be bleak.
Now that we have that out of the way, we can see that content isn’t necessarily the dividing line between MG and YA. The bigger distinction is how the content is handled, whether it’s off-screen and implied or on-screen and shown.
The protagonist’s age is often a factor, as well, although there is some wiggle room here, too. My main character in The Dirt Diary is 14, for example, but she’s in 8th grade. That puts her right smack in between the two genres, which is why I often refer to the book as “tween,” although it’s generally considered MG.
For me, the biggest difference between MG and YA is the character’s emotional journey. I’ve heard more than one person say that in MG, the character goes through lots of life-changing experiences but can still remain a child at the end. In YA, the character goes through lots of life-changing experiences that force him/her to become an adult. This might be too simplistic of an answer, but I think it goes a long way to explain the difference between the two.
In MG, you have characters exploring their worlds and experiencing what things outside of their own lives are like. In YA, you have characters exploring their own identities and figuring out where they belong in the world. The role of family is different in both; in MG, the family tends to be part of the story, both a support system and a source of conflict, whereas in YA, the family is often secondary or more a source of conflict than anything else. Again, this goes back to the idea of staying a child vs. becoming an adult. At some point, you need to find independence from your family (as many YA protagonists do) and strike out on your own.
Over the past decade or two, the MG and YA markets have changed quite a bit. It used to be that a book with a 14-year-old girl would automatically be labelled as YA, but now that you have more adults reading YA, the genre has started to focus on older and more mature protagonists. That means that MG has expanded too, including a wider range of books, sometimes those that feature younger teens.
Because the market is always shifting, I try not to drive myself too crazy with definitions, but I do try to keep in mind the general attitude in MG vs. YA. That, I think, hasn’t changed too much. In MG, we often still see characters branching out into the world, whereas in YA we see characters who want to find their places in it.
The Prank List blurb:
Rachel Lee never thought she’d fight for the right to clean toilets. But when a rival cleaning business starts stealing her mom’s clients, Rachel will do whatever it takes to save herself the horror of moving to Connecticut—which would mean giving up her almost, sort of boyfriend, her fantastic new pastry classes, and her best friend Marisol.
Operation Save Mom’s Cleaning Business is a go!
But when the series of pranks Rachel and her BFF cook up to take down the competition totally backfires, Rachel worries that her recipe for success is a dud. You know what they say—if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen…
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.