Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Young Adult or Middle-Grade? Who Cares? I Do!

I am peevish. I have a lot of peeves. If peeves were cats, my neighbors would be banging on my door to complain about the yowling and the smells.

Among the most vexing of my peeves is when the middle-grade novels Charlotte’s Web and A Wrinkle in Time appear on one of those “Greatest YA Novels of All Time” lists.
Great book, but not "Young Adult."

To put that in perspective, I also get upset when some writer confuses a shotgun with a rifle, or misattributes a quote, or uses the phrase “begs the question” incorrectly. Every writer’s error diminishes me, because I am a writer and I am involved in writerkind. (Sorry about that, Mr. Donne.)

I just read an article by Sarah Hannah Gómez about the middle-grade vs. YA thing. Nice article, Ms. Gómez! Now you got me all stirred up, because I’m having a MG vs. YA moment concerning my soon-to-be-published novel, Slider.

Is Slider YA or MG?

Easy answer: It is middle-grade, suitable for ages 10-up.

Real answer: Slider is upper-MG. It is lower-YA. It is both, and it is neither. The prose is accessible to most nine-year-olds, and a smaller number of eight-year-olds. The story, the issues, and the humor are geared to ten- to twelve-year-olds. My protagonist is fourteen, an age of particular interest to fourteen-year olds. And I hope my even older readers will find it to be a fun, easy read that will not insult their burgeoning intelligence and sophistication.

You may be saying, Middle-grade, YA, tomAYto, tomAHto…what’s your damage, man?

Well, it’s about making the book available to readers who will enjoy it most. Most of my work has been for “young adults”—that is, ages 12-16. I want this book to be read by a younger audience, one that my YA books do not reach. So it matters where it is shelved in bookstores and libraries.
The transition from MG to YA is not seamless. Between the two lies a gulf, both literal and figurative. 

In most libraries and bookstores, middle-grade is shelved in the children’s section along with Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon. YA books are given their own space, often at the far end of the library or bookstore. There is relatively little traffic between the two spaces.

Such Balkanization is a recent development, and it is by design. Around the age of twelve, kids start resenting having to eat at the kids’ table with the five and eight year olds. They want to be acknowledged as teens, aka “young adults.” They want their own table or, failing that, they want to sit with the grownups.

This presents a dilemma for precocious ten-year-olds who are intrigued by more complex, forward-looking books, and for teens who might prefer to read the easier, less angst-ridden books found in the children’s section. It is also an unsolved marketing problem for publishers.

A middle-grade novel.
The cover of Slider says that the book is suitable for ages 10-up, what you might call “upper middle-grade.” It will be shelved with the children’s chapter books, as are my previous two MG novels, The Flinkwater Factor and The Forgetting Machine. That is good; it’s where it belongs.

Up next: Should "middle-grade" be hyphenated? Experts weigh in.


Daughter Number Three said...

I remember seeing Tamora Pierce's Squire and Knight shelved as middle grade in the children's room at the Roseville Library and thinking.... not an appropriate place for those, especially Knight.

Pete Hautman said...

I've only read her Lioness books. But yeah, I see stuff mis-shelved often, including my books. It's a tricky business.

Cheryl said...

I never realized it was such a gray area on where to place those books that are stuck between being middle-grade books and young-adult books. But I think you're right; I have found myself going back and forth between the children's books and young-adult books in multiple libraries to look for books by the same author.

P.S. I like middle-grade hyphenated when it is used as an adjective, but then wouldn't young-adult have to be hyphenated as well? Maybe the expert will weigh in! :)

Pete Hautman said...

I am terrible with hyphens, as every copyeditor who has ever worked with me will attest. As long as the meaning is clear, I don't worry about it much other than in this blog, which does not have the benefit of a copyeditor.

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