When I was a young reader, way back in the previous century, our local library had a "little kids'" section, where you'd find picture books and Dr. Seuss and Frog and Toad are Friends. It had a children's section, where you'd find Little Women and The Black Cauldron and Betsy, Tacy, Tib, and Are You There God? It's Me Margaret. And the rest of collection was the adult section. By fifth grade, I was spending some time there, reading Oliver Twist or Agatha Christie, or doing research for a school project (yes, I used card catalogues).
The first new category of books I became aware of were chapter books, a vague term if I've ever heard one. Technically, War and Peace is a chapter book, right? Still, it makes sense in the elementary classrooms. It's not so much that they have chapters (Mr. Putter and Tabby books have chapters, but a beginning reader can still finish one in a single setting.) What sets a chapter book apart from an easy reader is the complexity of plot. Characters grow and change, multiple events take place that must be tracked, subplots crop up.
The next term that gained popularity was Young Adult novels. Again, this made sense, especially as people besides Judy Blume, Norma Klein, and Paula Danziger started writing books specifically about and for teenagers. At the stage when previous generations of readers left the children's section for the adult section, modern readers can find hundreds of great titles showcasing their peers. Coming of Age stories have always been popular, but they were read by teens and adults alike without being considered anything other than novels.
But what about the teenagers who weren't comfortable with books about periods and masturbation, drug use and betrayals? Or what about tweens who DEFINITELY weren't ready for that stuff, but who were looking for something a bit meatier than the tidy world of chapter books? Middle Grade novels are the ones that bridge the gap.
Don't even ask me about New Adult novels, because I flat out don't know. Are they just regular novels that happen to feature characters in their late teens and early twenties? Are they smutty YA novels? If a series follows a character from high school to college, like Anne of Green Gables, or Jessica Darling, do the books move from being YA to NA?
I'd like to know how YOU define these terms. What makes a book one or the other? Or are these subgenres at best, false classifications at worst? If the majority of readers of YA are grown adults, why don't we just call them novels that have a wide appeal? As a middle school teacher, I sometimes walk a wire between offering books that are interesting to my students and books that won't freak out certain of their parents. MG--totally okay. YA...well, is it early YA or later YA? If a book is recommended for 14 and up, and my students are aged 11-14, is it a good fit for my classroom?
And what the heck is NA?