What’s the Difference Between Middle-Grade Fiction vs. Young Adult Fiction?

Written by MasterClass

Jun 1, 2019 • 4 min read

Middle-grade fiction refers to books written for readers between the ages of 8 and 12, while young adult fiction refers to books written for readers roughly between the ages of 12 and 18. It is important to understand that the terms do not refer to genre but instead are an age-based categorization that can apply to science fiction, mystery, coming-of-age, and other types of fiction. The terms reflect the reading level, world-view, thematic interests, and maturity of readers.


What Is Middle-Grade Fiction?

Middle-grade fiction is an age-based categorization of fiction works written for readers between the ages of 8 and 12. More sophisticated than a children’s book or picture book but not as emotionally or thematically advanced as young adult fiction, examples of middle-grade fiction include Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, in which the characters’ internal conflicts are typical of what readers of this age group find in their everyday life, like loyalty when forming friendships and dealing with bullies.

Importantly, works of various different genres can be classified as middle-grade fiction, so long as they are for middle-grade readers. This can include graphic novels, fantasy and science fiction, manga, and more.

What Are the Characteristics of Middle-Grade Fiction?

There are certain characteristics that works of middle-grade fiction share:

  • They contain no profanity or graphic violence.
  • Romance is limited to crushes and first kisses.
  • Protagonists are roughly between the ages of 10 and 13.
  • Middle-grade novels are typically between 30,000 and 50,000 words long and voiced in the third person.
  • Characters typically react to what happens to them within their immediate world with a focus on friends and family.
  • The protagonist (and narrator) generally do not delve too much into self-reflection but instead focus on real-life situations.

What Is Young Adult Fiction?

Young adult fiction (also referred to as “YA fiction” for short) describes works written for readers between the ages 12 and 18, which can emerge from any fiction genre but will always share certain characteristics specific to the young adult reading category. YA books typically explore character’s introduction and integration into an unfamiliar world, focusing on the protagonist’s experiences and self-reflection as they come to find their place within it.

Though YA novels are written about teenage characters with story lines meant to appeal to this age group, the category has enjoyed a certain amount of crossover into the adult market recently. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, for example, follows protagonist Katnis Everdeen, who begins to explore the world beyond her district and ultimately comes to inspire a revolution within it by the conclusion of the three-novel series.

What Are the Characteristics of Young Adult Fiction?

Writing for readers between roughly 13 and 18 years old, young adult authors speak to the experiences of this age group. As such, young adult books share certain characteristics:

  • Profanity and graphic violence are permissible, reflecting the maturity of the reading group.
  • Romance is allowed, but not eroticism.
  • Protagonists are typically between 15 and 18 years old, reflecting the age of the reading group.
  • Young adult novels are generally 50,000 and 75,000 words, though fantasy does tend to exceed that length.
  • Young adult fiction is typically focused on how the main character fits in the ‘grown-up‘ world beyond their family and friends, reflecting on events and analyzing their meaning. to better understand themselves, their journey, and the world they are coming into
  • Because of the amount of self-reflection and internality, YA novels are often told in the first person from the protagonist’s point of view.

A good example of a popular YA novel is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Through the course of the novel, sixteen-year-old protagonist Hazel joins a cancer survivor’s group, meets her first boyfriend, and travels to Amsterdam, narrating her shifting understandings about life, death, and love at every turn. She engages in her first romantic experience, confronts a childhood hero upon finding him to be a spiteful alcoholic, and ultimately withstands her boyfriend’s untimely death. The novel is fixated almost entirely on Hazel’s experiences and how she processes them, the decisions she makes, and the strength that she builds by the novel’s conclusion.

What Is the Difference Between Middle-Grade Fiction vs. Young Adult Fiction?

Both middle-grade books and young adult fiction are for young readers. Middle-grade fiction is comprised of books intended for readers between the ages of 8 and 12, while young adult fiction targets readers between the ages of 12 and 18.
Because they have different intended audiences, their subject matter, length, and form are distinct from one another, though there is some overlap between the two categories—the later novels in the Harry Potter series are a good example.
There are four differences between middle-grade fiction and YA fiction:

  1. Middle-grade fiction typically does not contain profanity, graphic violence, or any sexual contact beyond kissing. In young adult fiction this type of content is permissible, but not gratuitously so.
  2. Young adult fiction is typically longer than middle-grade fiction.
  3. Middle-grade fiction tends to be told in third person and deal with characters’ relationships to their family and friends while young adult fiction is told typically in the first person and deals with characters encountering the world beyond their immediate family and friends.
  4. Young adult novels, like the high school readers they target, are more self-reflective than middle-grade novels and their readers.

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