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Understanding the Differences Between Middle Grade, Young Adult, and New Adult

When I first started at Ooligan Press, I was, of course, familiar with the term Young Adult (YA). I grew up reading plenty of YA books: the Animorphs, The Outsiders, The Giver, Harry Potter, Sabriel, The Golden Compass, and The Hunger Games to name a few. Until recently, I had only just started to hear the term Middle Grade (MG), and I had never heard the term New Adult (NA). So, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what all these terms mean and how they differ from one another. You may also be surprised to learn that some of the books I mentioned, which I thought of as YA, could actually be categorized as MG. So how do you know what’s what, what does it all mean, and why does it matter?

There are a lot of blurred lines and gray areas, and even the pros sometimes have difficulty differentiating between these terms and properly placing novels in the correct category. But knowing the basics of each term (and understanding the audience each category represents) can help publishers and authors make sure their books succeed and can help booksellers and librarians make sure those books reach their intended audiences. The first, and most important, thing to note is that YA, MG, and NA are not genres but categories—like fiction, nonfiction, or comics.

Middle Grade—MG is defined as books that are intended for readers aged eight to twelve. Often, MG titles feature a protagonist who is in the age range of eight to twelve and focuses on the experiences these readers may be going through. Friendships, family, physical changes, elementary and middle school experiences, life lessons, and a growing awareness of the world feature heavily in MG novels. MG novels can take the reader on fantastical journeys but usually with the promise of coming “home.” The early Harry Potter novels, the Animorphs, and The Golden Compass are considered MG titles. Current popular MG titles include Wonder, Troublemaker, and The Last Cuentista. To learn more about MG, check out this Publisher’s Weekly article on “Navigating Middle Grade Books” or check out this Ooligan Press blog post for some stellar recommendations for MG reads.

Young Adult—This term has been around the longest of the three—since 1944, in fact, when New York Public Library librarian Margaret Scoggin started calling teens “young adults” in her Library Journal column. YA books are generally intended for audiences aged twelve to eighteen. Often, YA titles feature a protagonist who is in the age range of twelve to eighteen and focuses on the experiences these readers may be going through. Although themes may vary by genre, YA books may feature aspects of coming-of-age, budding romance, violence, high school experiences, and/or leaving home. The Outsiders, The Giver, Sabriel, the later Harry Potter novels, and The Hunger Games are considered YA. Some current popular YA titles include One of Us Is Lying, Gallant, and You’ve Reached Sam. To learn more about YA, check out this video on PBS or check out this Ooligan Press blog post on the role of empathy in YA.

New Adult—The new “kid” on the block. Only recently coined in 2009 when St. Martin’s Press teamed up with book blogger Georgia McBride to run a contest for “YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.’” NA books are generally intended for audiences aged eighteen to twenty-five. Often, NA titles feature a protagonist who is in the age range of eighteen to twenty-five and focuses on the experiences these readers may be going through. They may feature themes of coming-of-age, living away from home, college experiences, first job experiences, violence, identity, and sexuality. Popular NA titles include Red, White & Royal Blue, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Yolk. To learn more about NA, check out this article in the New York Times or read one of these Ooligan Press blog posts: “The New Adult Revolution,” “The New Adult Revolution: A Recap,” or “What Ever Happened to New Adult.”

So that is the most basic categorization of MG, YA, and NA. Obviously, many titles blur these lines, and things get even more complicated when we start talking about readers who “read-up” or “read-down.” However, I believe these categories can help readers find what they’re looking for—whether they are the “intended audience” or not.

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