The Difference Between MG and YA and Why I Write Both

Guest Post by Susan Kaye Quinn, author of Open Minds

I’ve written a young adult love story (Life, Liberty, and Pursuit), a middle grade science fiction novel, a young adult paranormal/SF (Open Minds) book, a middle grade fantasy, and I’m working on a another couple of books (one MG, one YA). Only my YA novels have been published (so far), but I’ll continue to write both, because both types of stories appeal to me in different ways.

When asked, people often say the difference between middle grade and young adult stories is the age of the characters, but I think that is the least descriptive of definitions. Yes, young adult stories often have teen characters and middle grade characters are usually ages 10-13, but there are plenty of exceptions to that. Once upon a time, there were even adult main characters (gasp!) in children’s stories, something that’s still true in movies and TV.

The main difference that I see between middle grade and young adult is the age of the reader that the stories are targeted to (middle grade = ages 8-12+, young adult = 13+). I put a + at the end of those age categories, because more and more adults love to read young adult novels, and even middle grade ones. I was such a huge kidlit lover, with fantastic stories like Artemis Fowl and The Lightning Thief, that I knew those were stories I would love to write.

Middle grade is a time of discovery. Kids are learning about the world, and all its complexity, for the first time. Friendships, and relationships with parents, are a huge part of their lives, and that’s reflected in the stories as well. Kids this age have lots of demands on their time, so they need heart-pounding pacing to keep their attention. Likewise, they’re not likely to sit still for a lot of interior thoughts from their characters. But this doesn’t mean they are only interested in action for action’s sake. They like deep novels, ones that make them think … it just can’t be delivered in a preachy package that looks like it was hand-selected by their parents to teach them a lesson.

I love writing stories that can keep these kids entranced. (And I practice on my own 8, 10, and now 13 year old sons, so I know just what keeps them in their seats, motionless, as I read aloud the adventures of their favorite characters.)

Young adult novels appeal to the more adult side of me. The part that wants some romance with her action, some internal struggle and strife with her external conflict. Teens are discovering not just the world, but themselves, and this time in their lives is full of firsts – first love, first heartbreak, first friendship crisis of historic proportions. Beyond the usual teen angst, young adults like to grapple with moral stories, ones that force them to choose between two heart-rendingly irreconcilable goods, or two agonizingly evil choices. I’m right there with them, loving stories like Hunger Games and White Cat, that aren’t just about who to love, but what kind of person you want to be. I think the best love triangles in teen fiction aren’t about which boy/girl is cuter or treats you better, but where the two love interests represent a choice between two kinds of people that your main character could be. Their choice says something important about who they are as a person … and who they want to be.

These are the kinds of stories I love to read and love to write. I want to help middle grade readers discover the world and young adult readers figure out how they can change it.

I really can’t think of a better job.

Open Minds

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available for $2.99 in e-book (Amazon US (also UK, France and Germany), Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iTunes) and $9.99 in print (Amazon, Createspace, also autographed copies available from the author).

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1 Comment

  1. Bryan Russell

    Great post. I actually just started developing, of all things, a Middle Grade novel idea. Who would’ve thunk it?

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