katecoombs (katecoombs) wrote in enchantedinkpot,

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TOTW: Tween Island

Last year I had a manuscript turned down by a publisher because, though I had written it about teens in high school and considered it a YA, the editor said it was "too young"—neither MG nor YA. Was it because I hadn't included the F word? Or because there wasn't enough kissing, let alone sex? (I asked myself, not at all perturbed!)

In the world of fantasy, there does seem to be a certain group of books that lie somewhere between YA and MG, many of them fairy tale retellings. I think Shannon Hale's books particularly exemplify this type. The characters are mostly teens, but the adventures are appealing to 10-year-olds as well as to 15-year-olds. In these books, you'll find there's a serious dearth of the sensual suspense found in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight—to name a random example. The violence, too, isn't as strong, although peril often plays a key part in such stories. In addition, though the characters face challenges and may struggle with a lack of confidence, they seem less likely to be enveloped in full-fledged teen angst.

Of course, a related issue is that children are said to "read up," so that 10-year-olds are actually reading the YA stuff, while 17-year-olds are reading adult fiction. In that case, I'm not sure who exactly would be reading books that fall between the MG and YA markets. Is there a place for these books, or should they skew more clearly up or down?

Another example would be E.D. Baker's Frog Princess series. Barnes and Noble has been shelving it in YA, which always causes me to do a double take, since the books feel really MG to me.

And yes, my books The Runaway Princess and The Runaway Dragon have been placed in the "older MG" category; they're about teens and there's even a little crushing and kissing in Book 2, but otherwise, they read like middle grade fiction. They are also fairy tale retellings, at least in bits and pieces.

I'm still pondering whether to completely rewrite my not-quite-YA paranormal manuscript for middle school, converting prom to an eighth grade dance and taking away everyone's cars. And I'm still wondering if there's a place in fantasy, let alone YA fiction, for young or at least relatively wholesome (PG vs. PG-13) storytelling...

Or how about the trend for what's being called "darker" MG fantasy, as in Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book, Adam Gidwitz's A Tale Dark and Grimm, or Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making? These books read at the more mature end of middle grade fiction.

I am pleased to note that the folks at The Horn Book Magazine exercise good sense in regards to the age range issue: Their review categories include "Preschool," "Primary," "Intermediate," "Middle School," and High School," sometimes listing two age groups for a single book—e.g., "Intermediate, Middle School" or "Middle School, High School."

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of consensus and even outright uncertainty in the broader publishing community about such designations and the associated marketing of books that straddle the MG/YA borderline. I'm sure you recall conversations about the way the Harry Potter series started out as MG and finished up in the YA camp (or camping in a depressed adolescent way in the equally dour British countryside, to be precise).

What do you think? Can you name other fantasy books that seem to be aimed at middle school (not to be confused with middle grade/intermediate) readers? If you're the parents of sixth, seventh, or eighth graders, do they read more MG or more YA books? If you're an author, would you say you write mostly for MG, for YA, or for that mysterious group of "older MG/younger YA," AKA tweens? Do you ever run into trouble over the age issue as a reader or writer?

Tags: kate coombs, totw, tweens

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