Middle Grade vs Young Adult

How can you tell if a teen novel is written for middle graders or young adults?  For some people, the difference revolves around sex.  If the characters are doing it, it must be young adult.  But not all young adult novels feature sex.  Some people think it has to do with the stakes or just how serious the subject matter is.  But some middle grade books deal with things that are all kinds of serious.

One of my favorite examples of an oh so serious middle grade novel is Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand.  In spite of the fact that this book is for slightly younger reader it includes:

  • The main character has clinical depression.
  • Her parents are estranged from her grandparents.
  • Her grandmother is being treated for cancer.
  • Someone was blamed for a crime he didn’t commit to protect the town darling.

And those are just the things that I can remember just over half a year after reading the book.

Here are some of the differences that I’ve noticed.

Middle grade novels:

  • Feature main characters who are younger teens or tweens.
  • They have less autonomy thus may be sent to stay with grandma.
  • They sometimes require the help of an older teen to solve the story problem.
  • They are most often trying to find their place within their family or social circle.
  • If there is attraction, it is generally pretty innocent — kissing, hand holding.

Young adult novels:

  • Feature high school aged characters.
  • They have a lot more independence and usually don’t need anyone to drive them around.
  • They may require help but are more likely to go to a contemporary than someone older.
  • They are often trying to break away from their families or social circle.  They are becoming their own people and often rock the world back in doing so.
  • These novels are longer and more complex with more subplots.

These aren’t the only differences but they are a start to developing an understanding.  The more children’s novels your read, the more easily you will be able to tell the difference.  Teens question everything.  They know that adults are clueless.  Middle grade readers have begun to suspect and may gather the proof they need in the course of the story.



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