If you are as avid a reader as I am, you are probably familiar with the terms Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction. Recently, a new category has popped up: New Adult.
What exactly determines if a book fits into one category or another? This may not be important for people who just want to read good books, (Who cares if the protagonist is sixteen or thirty-six as long as it’s a great read!) but understanding the difference is vital when you are writing books and marketing them.
Middle Grade Books
Let’s start with Middle Grade. This category is for younger readers, generally between the ages of 8 to 12, or if the subject matter is a little more mature, ages 10 to 14.
The protagonist’s age should fall into one of these ranges, and the story should be told from a child’s point of view (1st or 3rd person doesn’t matter). Adults may be present in the story, but the kids are the stars of the show.
Some “no-no’s” for writing for this age group include books told from an adult perspective reminiscing about when they were young and stories told from a kid’s POV but where the subject matter could be considered mature.
Middle Grade = Young Adult? (nope)
Despite the fact that many contests lump Middle Grade and Young Adult into a single category (which drives me nuts), they are two distinct categories.
As the Editor in Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, a publication about books for middle grade readers, I can’t tell you how many authors approach me about their books claiming they are for middle grade AND young adult readers.
NO. It doesn’t work that way. You must choose one category or the other. Libraries and book stores shelve books according to these categories. Often the sections are in completely opposite ends of the building. A book cannot be shelved in both.
Also, teachers, parents, and librarians need to know the intended audience for a particular book so they won’t accidentally hand an inappropriate book to an underage reader.
Young Adult Books
That said, Young Adult books have protagonists who are generally between the ages of 15 and 18 years of age. The subject matter is more mature and tackles topics of interest to teens, such as romance, issues of identity, peer pressure, sexuality, substance abuse, and so forth.
This category may or may not contain profanity, drugs or alcohol, and/or sex (though never explicit).
New Adult Books: a brand-new category
The New Adult category recently appeared as a bridge between Young Adult and Adult books. New Adult titles generally target college-age readers and have characters between 18 and 25.
This category quickly gained the reputation for containing explicit sex, but that is not always the case, and is certainly not a requirement.
Finally, what designates a book for adults? Well, it is easier to define what adult books are NOT. They are not Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult books.
And by the way, a book’s genre, writing style, and complexity or simplicity of language are something else entirely. And that about covers it.
Do you read “outside” your age category? (Adults reading Middle Grade, for example.) If yes, what are some of your favorite recent reads?
Laurisa White Reyes [Amazon author page] is the author of four novels, including The Celestine Chronicles (Middle Grade fantasy), Contact (Young Adult thriller), and The Crystal Keeper (Adult epic fantasy). She is also the Editor in Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine and the Senior Editor of Skyrocket Press. You can find her at