Teens Can Write, Too!

Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework

Middle Grade vs. Young Adult

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).

Middle School

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?


About Julia Byers

I'm a twenty-something writer, publishing person, and tea addict who also dabbles in theatre, photography, film, and music. Suburban Michigan to Oxford, England to NYC. I once met JK Rowling and lived to tell the tale.

9 comments on “Middle Grade vs. Young Adult

  1. Kira Budge
    May 21, 2015

    Awesometastic post, Julia! Really got me thinking about the question you and Emma and Aisha talked about.

    My response would be the same as yours, but then I got thinking about the MG books I have written in the past, and how it’s always a female mentor who’s like, “You have magic!!!” So since I have a very ingrained mistrust of men, I flipped it around and thought, “What if it was a random lady in the woods?” I still wouldn’t go waltzing off through the forest with her (dear goodness, Emma, haven’t you heard of stranger danger?) but I’d be far more likely to stop and talk to her. So yeah! *shrugs*

  2. Miriam Joy
    May 21, 2015

    Where I live (England) we don’t really have MG fiction so much — it’s not considered a separate category. Sometimes a bookshop will divide their children’s books up so that there’s a category for, like, age 9-12? But on the whole, it’s just children’s books and teen books. Then again, we don’t have middle school either. Just primary (until age 11) and secondary (from then until 18). So maybe that’s part of it. We don’t have that in-between stage, which means I started reading YA pretty young. And also adult books. I read loads of things I totally wasn’t old enough to read, tbh.

    YA books need more friendship and less romance. More sarcasm, less sex. More puns, fewer love triangles. Right?

  3. Ellie
    May 21, 2015

    Love the post! I’m kind of at a point where as much as I love some YA books…others just aren’t doing it for me. I come back to MG every now and then, and sometimes it feels way too young, but I still love my old faves from when I was eleven or so. MG is far less dark and sometimes, that’s exactly what I want. Also, it has little if any romance, so it appeals far more to me than books like Divergent. Yes, people, there is such a thing as friendship, contrary to what YA tells you. And it is not required to eventually turn into a romantic relationship.

    One thing I’d like to add: MG and YA are not completely separate categories. There’s a sort of almost-genre in between (ages 10-14 or so) that doesn’t seem to fit either group but overlaps both. The Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, Fablehaven, Beyonders–none are really either age group.

    A couple MG recs:

    The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick

    Septimus Heap by Angie Sage

    The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

    Does Percy Jackson count? Because I’m 14 and don’t think of it as too young at all, but many people call it MG.

    • Keira
      May 27, 2015

      I agree about the in between books – like what is Harry Potter? It’s clearly both, but also neither. Others are easy even if there’s a romantic element – Ella Enchanted reads middle grade to me but it’s Cinderella. She gets her Prince Charmont at the end.

      • Ellie
        May 27, 2015

        I never could decide about HP. My mom started reading it to me when I was like 8 and it wasn’t too old for me, but so many older teens love it that I’ve pretty much given up and decided it’s just an all ages kind of book. And as for Ella Enchanted, I have no idea what you’d classify it as. Again, I read it when I was younger, and I agree it seems more MG, but then it almost seems like YA in places. So maybe what I’m writing is in that weird age range, too. Kind of hard to say.

  4. Freakishly Fangirlish
    May 22, 2015

    Reblogged this on Freakishly Fangirlish.

  5. erinkenobi2893
    May 31, 2015

    *raises hand at the friendship part* Present! (I don’t think I could write romance to save my life. Maybe to save the book. But I’m really better with friendships.) I’m here! I will write for you!!! 😀 😀 😀
    I don’t know. I think I might tend toward YA, though it’s mainly because of the “cautious heroes” thing you mentioned, and the style is geared a bit more towards teenagers/twenty-year-olds. No content advisory, just… it’s a bit more complex, with a lot more confusing words.
    (Also, ❤ the Ninth Doctor. He's so awesome X-D)

  6. Ainsley
    June 9, 2015

    I’ve nominated your site for a Liebster Award…..http://whatainsleylikes.com

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This entry was posted on May 21, 2015 by in Random, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , .
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