MG vs. YA: Debatable Differences

Dearest Readers, we are gathered here today for a rollicking good ride. Or, in more precise terms, to talk about the differences between novels meant for middle grade readers and those meant for young adults. I bring to this article no expertise but the experience garnered from reading many many books belonging to both genres. I also acknowledge that I will (or am) going to be generalizing a bit and not all books (in either MG or YA genre) will evince the characteristics I assign to them in this article.

That said and done, let’s move on to the article proper wherein we will discuss discussable things in a roundabout rollicky way. But let me preface the article with a gif (since you all know how much I love them):


Laura Backes writes that one of the major differences between YA novels and MG novels is that MG novels focus more intensely on internal growth while YA novels deal with much more adult issues. (Middle grade novels for those who are not aware target readers aged 9-11).) I agree with her to a certain extent but I think that things are changing, perhaps to reflect the uncertain economical times, and books for middle grade readers deal with issues that are much more complex than they used to be. (A study of MG books released in the 21990s compared to those released in the last decade would make a good study especially where complexity is concerned.) Middle grade novels often deal with much darker themes than they used to and the line dividing YA from MG (genres) is fast becoming blurred except in one area: Romance.

YA novels (regrettably) tend to devote a large section of the narrative to romantic relationships between key characters while MG novels tend to devote the majority of the narrative attention to the plot with romance being a subplot if it is present at all.

The MG novels pictured above deal with identity, good and evil, death, internal strength, acceptance, family and relationships with parents. The Castle Behind the Thorns has themes of leadership and questions the decisions one must make for the sake of many. Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge takes a candid look at what it means to be human while The Thickety questions the morality of parents and asks whether you can forgive them their humanness. Though admittedly, the conflicts within these novels are not of an epic nature, these issues are far from being exclusive to children. In fact, I’d argue that most of the themes in these MG novels are universal and no less important for their internal nature. None of these novels have any extended romance plots but if they do, they are more of this variety:

Gilbert Blythe

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good romance subplot like many other people (okay, less than some other people) but I feel like YA novels devote too much attention to romance plots and not enough to the story. Perhaps this is because the targeted audience react most favourably to romance but at what expense?

Middle grade novels escape the sticky and consuming nature of romance and are free to devote attention to other equally important relationships in the protagonist’s life such as friendship or the relationship a child has with his/her parents. I have found, too, that middle grade novels have better fleshed out plots instead of indigestible coincidences that place the protagonist and his/her love interest in close proximity to each other so the romance can continue unhindered. All other nonromantic relationships are shunted off to the side just so girl A can agonise between boy B and boy C (or girl B and girl C or interchangeable).

So what’s my point? I think I may be saying that well done MG novels are better than sparkly YA novels that are romance novels dressed in shades of vampires and werewolves. I may also be making a bold (and totally scandalous) statement that YA novels need to focus less on the romance (as a rule) and more on the story. Let romance be a genre instead of a fact of a YA novel.

As for claims that MG novels are less less complex (both in story and writing) than YA novels, one only needs to read books by authors such as Frances Hardinge and Catherynne M. Valente to know the truth and judge for oneself how both writing and plot have no genre boundaries.

that's all folks

8 responses to “MG vs. YA: Debatable Differences

  1. I agree wholeheartedly about YA having too much focus on the romance aspect. I notice you put some prime examples of MG books but no examples of actually palatable YA books, please if you can could you direct me to one good book where she isnt drowning in his eyes instead of saving the world

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