Discussion: Did reading YA at a young age ruin the way I think about middle grade books?

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve been having a good week and a good summer. Today I am doing my first ever true discussion post! I’m very excited, and I hope you guys like it! I will be talking about something that I’ve thought about a lot lately, which is if YA has ruined the way I think about aspects of middle grade books, namely the voice of the story.

A bit of background…

I started really reading YA in the spring of my seventh grade year, which was just after I had turned twelve. I had read some YA books before, but after I read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, I started really reading exclusively YA, reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. I then discovered Goodreads, and found tons of ways to find new books through that site. This is also around the time I started my blog! I started this book blog that summer, and having gone back through it, I realized that I mostly read YA books on it.

I was twelve. There are many debates about when YA actually starts, twelve years old can sometimes be the minimum number. However, the typical character age of a YA book is 16-17. I was reading about kids who were in some cases five years older than me, dealing with major problems in their lives and how to fix them, problems that I didn’t have to deal with as a preteen. As I returned to the middle grade category for my required reading for school, I was always annoyed with how petty the characters seemed and how immature they were. Is this because I was reading YA?

YA vs. Middle Grade

Neither Middle Grade nor YA are genres of literature, rather they are cagetories of books groups by intended audience. As most of you probably know, YA stands for Young Adult, which is targeted toward the “teenage” age range. The most common age categorization for these books are the common American high school 9-12th grade, or 14- roughly 18 or 19. Of course, there are many places that will tell you otherwise, some saying it starts as early as twelve (and of course there’s the fact that almost half of the YA audience is adult, but I won’t really talk about that right now. That’s a whole other discussion). Middle grade, on the other hand is typically targeted to 8-12 year olds, but, again, there are many different discussions about who the actual intended audience is. One reason for this is the typical age of a protagonist in each. Typical protagonists in YA books are around 16-17, whereas typical middle grade protagonists are 12-14 (even though some of those ages aren’t in the intended audience).

Some of the main differences that I find in YA and middle grade books are the way they talk about certain subjects. Most of the time, YA isn’t afraid to delve deeper into harsh subjects and talk about mature things. Middle grade might talk about these topics, but it’s more surface level. Another major difference is the voice. Middle grade voices can feel pretty awkward to read, probably because the speakers themselves haven’t really found their voices or place in the world yet. YA speakers, on the other hand, feel a lot more mature and in most cases they already know their identity and voice, they just have to figure out how they want to be represented. Of course, these are broad generalizations about the categories, and every book is different, but these are just some things that I have noticed.

Changes in voice

When I started reading YA, I basically stopped reading middle grade, except for the books that I had to read for school. When I read middle grade books for school, I alwas got really annoyed at the protagonists for being so immature and awkward, even though in some cases we were exactly the same age.

I have been reading more middle grade lately, because I have been writing about them for my Recommendation Wednesday series, when I talk about YA crossover appeal. In reviewing the last couple of books, I have wanted to complain about the voices.

I wonder if reading YA books about teenagers when I wasn’t a teenager made me more critical about my own age range (there’s also the fact that many of the teenagers in contemporary YA don’t have very nice things to say about middle school). I think because the characters in my books seemed so cool and mature, who had so much bigger problems than fitting in made me sort of annoyed with the books of my age.

I’m not saying that middle grade books are immature. They are not and a lot of them tackle a lot of important issues! There are so many different books in the middle grade category, and I was only having problems with the ones I was reading! But I’m also not saying that YA characters are too mature. I think their voices are just different. And I think that, for me at least, the difference can sometimes make it hard to switch between the two.

This was kind of a long post, but I hoped you enjoyed hearing my thoughts about this subject! What do you think about YA versus middle grade? Let me know the comments!


12 thoughts on “Discussion: Did reading YA at a young age ruin the way I think about middle grade books?

  1. I’m so glad I came across this post! I’m 20 now and I just recently started reaching for middle grade books. During my early teen years I almost exclusively read YA. I was about 13 and my favorite thing about YA was reading bout 16-18 years old doing cool stuff and navigating their teenage lives. I didn’t even bat an eye towards reading books that were about characters my age or geared toward my age range. Now that I’m a bit older, I’ve started to dive into middle grade books I missed out on because I was so YA focused. It’s been quite interesting and pretty fun to read books with such young voices. It’s been kind of like a breath of fresh air for me. Great post!

    • Thank you so much for reading! This is pretty similar to what has happened to me, though I’m still a teenager. I think that for me, it wasn’t that the characters were cool because they were older, it was because they felt more mature and less awkward. I’m glad you are enjoying the middle grade books you have gone back and read!

  2. I totally went from the Children section basically straight to YA. It’s true that I found a lot of the books quite mature for a seventh grader (although I still really enjoyed them), but the MG books always felt either a little too childish or not captivating enough. It’s really only now that I have started to pick up MG books, to try to find good ones. Great post!!

  3. I feel like when I was growing up (I’m now 27) YA wasn’t a thing, not in my local bookshop anyway. You had a kids section and an adults section and maybe there was a tiny section in the kids area for teenagers but at 12 I definitely spent more time going to the fantasy shelves than the kids shelves because I was looking for things like Lord of the Rings. Some fantasy I read back than would probably be classified as YA now…Okay I was also reading Anne Rice when I was 12-15 which definitely wasn’t suitable for my age group…

      • I wish I had been a teenager in a world filled with YA literature. I wonder if YA being so readily available now is increasing the likelihood of kids continuing to read as a hobby. I feel so many people my age read a lot as kids but stopped when they got to secondary school (aged 12/13) and have been picking up books again mid to late 20s. Might be easier just to find books for your age group these days to keep you interested.
        But yeah, it was hard for YA to ruin middle-grade books for me as a kid because YA didn’t exists! I guess there were YA stories around but they sorta just fell into the category of books you read for school, like The Outsiders.

    • I hadn’t really considered that, but it’s so true. I’m 35, and I went from the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins in 3-4th grade to Sweet Valley High and Lois Lowery mysteries in 5th grade. By 6th grade, I was reading Mary Higgins Clark mysteries.

      Then in junior high and high school, I didn’t read because I loathed the classics that were forced on us!

      • Yup, instead of YA literature in secondary school we got Shakespeare and Irish plays set in the 20s about how poor everyone was and fields – enough to kill anyone’s love of reading!
        I wish I had had the variety of YA literature there is now growing up instead of just having to go from kids literature to adult fantasy.

  4. Fascinating topic! As an adult who reads a lot of YA, it’s interesting to hear your point of view. I do find myself struggling to pick up middle grade books (since I teach the top of that age range and need to be able to recommend) but usually it’s not too hard to get hooked. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place when trying to generate interest in MG books from seventh graders since some YA books are a bit too mature.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the fact that half of YA readership is made up of adults!

    • I know that when I started reading YA, I had a lot of trouble picking up MG books too. That’s why I’ve been doing Recommendation Wednesday, to go back over books that I might have missed.
      I might do a discussion in the future about the adult readership in YA, but I’m not sure yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s