Hey, guys! The theme for May is “Non-YA Novels.”
I’ll be honest: I read and write very little that isn’t Young Adult fiction. For the most part, this is because I adore YA and there’s so much of it out there that I have no reason to branch out beyond it. But a little teeny tiny (actually pretty decently-sized) part of it is also that YA comes easily to me. Other ages? Not so much.
This is especially true of my secret love: Middle Grade.
Middle Grade fiction is awesome. It’s so much lighter and more adventurous than a lot of YA. (If you need clarification on what I mean by that: A while back fellow TCWT writers Aisha and Emma and I were talking when Aisha asked us what our reactions would be if a strange man approached us in the woods and told us we secretly had magical powers. I said I’d probably tell the guy he was insane and make a break for it; I write mostly YA. Emma, on the other hand, replied that she’d probably be like, “Cool!” and follow him off to the magical world. Emma, through and through, is an MG person.)
MG differs from YA in lots of other ways, too. So, in case you too are naturally a YA person who happens to also love MG, I figured I’d put together a quick list of the defining characteristics of MG (in comparison to YA).
Like all things, there are of course exceptions to this rule. But whereas YA generally focuses on the high school years, MG is all about the torture chamber that is middle school.
That means things are generally more dramatic–but, at least in the case of contemporary works, also with lower stakes. So maybe instead of not getting into her dream university if a character doesn’t do well in a class, she’ll just have to deal with her parents grounding her for a couple weeks. (The stakes in other genres of MG, however, are just as high as in anything else. Which makes them extra exciting–because, like, eleven-year-old saving the world? There is no greater natural underdog situation. And it is EXCELLENT.)
Finding Out About (But Not Necessarily Experiencing Things) For the First Time
Like YA, MG focuses on a period of discovery. (Yay puberty.) However, unlike YA, Middle Grade is more about learning about things than actually first-hand experiencing them. Or, if your protagonist does experience something, it’ll be the more innocent iteration of it.
For example, instead of trying alcohol for the first time, a MG protagonist is much more likely to see an older sibling try it for the first time. Or instead of losing his virginity, an MG protagonist is more likely to simply have a first kiss. (And chances are that kiss would be more cute than, like, steamy.)
As a whole, MG protagonists are much more trusting than their YA counterparts (as exemplified by the reactions of Emma and me above). Whereas YA generally has that period where the protagonist thinks she’s going cray cray if something strange happens, an MG protagonist is more likely to roll with it.
A really great example of this comes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Instead of freaking out over finding a world in a wardrobe, Lucy looks around in wonder and readily accepts going to tea with Mr. Tumnus. Peter and Susan, on the other hand, can’t believe their eyes and are extremely wary of Narnia. Lucy sees the adventure as a gift; they see it as a threat.
The trusting thing also extends to other aspects of the story, like the protagonist’s relationships with authority figures. While YA generally has a level of distance and animosity with authority figures, MG still trusts them and believes in their ability to make everything right.
Friendships over Relationships
Going on my soapbox for a moment: I lovelovelove stories about friends and I want more of them in YA.
However, as it stands, YA is generally more focused on romantic relationships than platonic ones. On the other hand, MG is all about friendship and all the weird, nerve wracking, and wonderful drama that comes with that.
What are some of your favorite characteristics of Middle Grade fiction? Did I miss any defining differences between it and YA?