Saturday, December 31, 2011

a much-needed rant on 'middle grade' literature

Let me be very clear about something: I hate the term 'middle grade.' I can't stand it. I rarely use it. It's because, let's be honest here, there seems to be some judgment associated with the term. I can't tell you how many times I've read a review on Goodreads where 'middle grade' is used derisively in a review, normally in the context of "I don't usually read middle grade books' or 'this book is probably better suited to a middle grade audience.' Even at BEA last May, a gathering place for book enthusiasts, I heard so many people say, 'Oh wait, I think this is a middle grade book.'
In the great universe of non-adult-marketed literature, the 'middle grade' novels are often treated like second-class books (argument not necessary).
As far as I'm concerned, the term 'middle grade' should not exist - at least, not to the extent that it's being thrown around in the literary community, and it's because I rarely EVER see a distinction applied anywhere but the literary community. I see 5th graders reading The Hunger Games and I see high schoolers fawning over the Percy Jackson series, yet one of those titles is often lumped in with the 'middle grade.'
I try very hard not to make the distinction between 'middle grade' and 'Young Adult,' because it my literature classes, it was drilled into me that 'Young Adult' was an umbrella term used for any novel geared toward 10-year-olds through...well, young adults. The only time I make distinctions between middle-school reads and high school reads is when it comes to content, or basic appropriateness. There are a great many novels that I love, that seem better suited to older audiences (sometimes for content but mostly for reader maturity - would they be able to "get" the story), but I can't say the same is true about the opposite scenario. As radical as the idea may be, I don't think there's an age maximum on any youth-geared novel. The legacy of Harry Potter is that it's a successful "Young Adult" novel that is taken seriously by the majority of the literary and commercial world, yet it is a story that initially follows the adventures of an 11-year-old...
so why must there still be this distinction among novels with other young protagonists?

I get the fact that a novel with a 12-year-old MC is going to be different, tonally, than a novel with a 16-year-old MC. Call it all 'YA' and label the other book 'teen fiction,' which is a label I like to use because it seems more accurate. But 'YA' is 'YA,' in my opinion. Just because a book has a younger protagonist doesn't mean it's any less quality fiction. It deserves to be taken seriously as a novel as well.
For me, the following is true: aside from picture books and short, beginning chapter books (i.e. children's fiction), novels - full-length novels geared to non-adults capable of abstract reasoning and the ability to follow multiple plot-lines and keep up with character development - are 'Young Adult' novels. Plain and simple.

4 shout-outs!:

Jordyn said...

I think as far as publishing is concerned, there IS a distinction between YA and MG, but I confess that for me it's more a "feeling" than anything else. Sharon Creech books are MG because they feel more like MG than YA, even though sometimes the protagonists are 13 years old.

I once heard a really good definition of MG vs. YA, but I forgot what it was and now I wish I could remember it.

Tales of Whimsy said...

I like the term. Mainly 'cause it helps me realize I'm dealing with a younger protagonist. Sometimes I'm in the mood for that and sometimes I'm not. That being said, I did enjoy your rant :) Happy New Year!

Mandy said...

I agree with Juju. I like the term when it's used for a younger protagonist, just so I know about it. But sometimes it is annoying when people throw it out there and treat it like it's a lower class instead of just a term used for the protagonist being younger.

Great post. =D

Andrea Mack said...

I think it's hard to avoid the label, since publishers seem to divide books that way. But I do think that there are characteristics of MG novels that make them different from YA ones.

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