Neither MG nor YA

Sometimes you miss out on  amazing things. This week, McNally Jackson Books here in NYC had a panel I would have LOVED to have attended: “Middle School is Hell,” organized by Kate Milford, moderated by Connie Hsu of Roaring Brook Press, with Kate, Rebecca Stead, and Mariko Tamaki speaking.

Sorry, Wright, Cespedes, and Murphy – that was the lineup I wanted to see. (But if you’ve got World Series tix for Citi Field, you’re not using, I’m rooting for the Mets.  😉  Go, Amazin’s! )

Beyond the stellar lineup, I was intrigued by the topic: the hole in the market for books aimed at kids 12-14 years old. I see this every day in my library – even though my oldest students are 11, if that. Many of them are reading beyond their age and grade, but not so much as to read YA. And the ones that do read YA don’t always seem to enjoy it or comprehend it full, given their comments to me.

The panel agreed that 12-14 is an awkward age, but I think it goes beyond that.  The gap between 13 and 16 is much wider than the gap between, say, 6 and 9 – wider emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

Let’s face it, kids at this age are more sophisticated readers, and many of the books  for middle grade seem babyish or are too quickly finished. These kids want something they can sink their teeth into, and I found that Puffin Classics work really well for them. But there’s only so many classic books, and many of these kids want something modern. They want books that are more complex, with bigger issues, but they don’t necessarily want all the romance (never mind sex) of YA or its all too frequent navel-gazing. And many parents definitely don’t want their not-quite or just-barely teens reading about sex, drugs, violence and other content typically found in books targeting older teens.

I’ve experienced this myself, not just with my child and her reading, but with my writing. I deliberately targeted this age group with my fantasy, and I’ve gotten feedback that I needed to age my characters up “so it’ll work for YA” or change the emphasis on certain themes so “MG can relate more.”

Maybe we all need to loosen up a little and let the readers find the book. After all, many adults find Pullman impenetrable – but I know plenty of kids who love him.

Maybe publishing will become even more granular, with a new category aimed at 12-14. MS for middle school? YT for younger teens? NQYA? (Not Quite YA.)

What do you think?


8 thoughts on “Neither MG nor YA

  1. Hi, Leslie! It’s been a while since I’ve stopped by ’cause life has been relatively crazy here :-\

    This is a subject I’m familiar with because I was drawn to possibly writing for “upper middle grade” which I believe is 12-14. My MCs would be maybe 14 or 15, I’m thinking. The problem is there IS no actual category on the shelves, whether in bookstores or libraries. I do wish they’d change that, but it wouldn’t be easy to get rolling. That’s the unfortunate thing 😦

    1. Glad to see you back! I wonder if creating another category is the answer – or if letting go of categories is?

      It’s an issue in libraries, too. The more you shelve genres, etc. separately, the harder it is to browse. And many books don’t fall neatly into one category or another. Harry Potter, for example – starts as middle grade and ends as YA.


      1. Hmm…I know, I get what you’re saying, but without some kind of categorization (though it would promote browsing ’cause you wouldn’t have a choice), it would take much longer to hone in on books. I think by adding the category it would help at least point the kids (and librarians and booksellers) in a general direction. Harry Potter is also, I think, an exception to the rule. Most series don’t “grow up” in that way, right?

      2. No, not many series “grow up” like that. But there are plenty of books that could go one way or the other. Perhaps we just need to write more of them! 🙂 And sadly, not going to Craft Day this year. Too much going on right now.


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