Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Discuss: YA, MG, NA, OMG

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?


  1. What the heck is NA, indeed! I have never run across NA that isn't: contemporary, featuring characters in their late teens, revolving around a romance. I pretty much avoid them (I don't like formulaic novels). I tend to think of MG as YA-lite. Some MG novels have 12 year old protagonists who deal with heavy, heavy things (like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy), some deal with medium-heavy stuff (like Suzanne Collins' Gregor series) and some are quite fluffy. YA has the same range but, for some reason, it feels like a more narrow range than MG. I suppose that means (for me, anyway) the line between Children's and MG is fuzzy. I think a lot of the genre classification has to do with marketing...which is a shame, because we should be able to read a novel marked as a Fantasy (not a YA, Fantasy) that happens to have an 18-year-old protagonist.

    1. Yes! By the logic of "protagonists the same age as the readers," I wouldn't be able to read about elderly people or 30 year olds, right? Bastard out of Carolina is about a little girl, but it's sure not a children's book. Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter & Tabby series features two elderly neighbors and their pets, and they are easy readers. I'm reading The Hired Girl right now, and I keep seeing arguments about whether its YA or MG, presumably because the 14 year old protagonist is right on the line herself, and because it's somewhat gritty without crossing the line into PG13 territory. But who cares? If an 8 year old, a 14 year old, a 38 year old and a 75 year old would all enjoy it, why stick a label on it implying it's not "for" some of them?

  2. Ha! The question about NA has been asked basically since it came out. Technically, NA novels are supposed to feature characters who are roughly college age or just out of college age - that time between being a kid and being an adult where you're sort of figuring out what you're going to do with your life.
    Now, technically, NA books could be any genre and it could be clean or racy, but for the most part, NA tends toward contemporary, and it often (but not always) features explicit sex. For this reason, series that start out YA but get more explicit as the characters age are often termed NA.
    I think that NA has some real value as a genre to explore those years where people are figuring out their adult lives, butt I'll be curious to see if it continues to just be more and more about the sex - it's a theme I've seen OFTEN. We shall see!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  3. To me NA just means characters that are just barely entering into adulthood. It is a coming of age and experiencing things for the first time on their own. Lately that seems to also mean the smutty books, but it doesn't have to. NA can simply be, college, first job, first time living on your own, etc.


Please share your thoughts. Comments are almost as sweet as chocolate!