In the vast landscape of fiction, novels cater to readers of all ages, interests, and maturity levels. In this blog post, I will unravel the differences between Middle Grade, Young Adult (YA), and New Adult (NA) fiction.
The Differences Among Middle Grade, YA, and NA Fiction
Put succinctly, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and New Adult are distinct categories of books targeted at different age groups, although there is some overlap in themes and content among the age categories. This categorization helps authors, readers, and publishers determine the appropriate content for different age groups. The terms not only reflect the target age, but also the reading level, worldview, thematic interests, and maturity of readers.
Middle Grade novels are designed for readers aged 8-12. The themes often revolve around friendship, family, and self-discovery. The accessible language of Middle Grade novels promotes a love for reading and expands the child’s vocabulary. The length of these books is typically shorter than the other categories and the books are intended for older but still child-age, audiences transitioning from picture books, early readers, and chapter books. Most of the winners of the Newberry Medal have been middle grade fiction.
Some common characteristics of Middle Grade books:
- Typically between 30,000-50,000 words
- Main character is between 10 and 13
- Voiced in third person
- Contain no profanity or graphic violence
- Romance is limited to crushes and first kisses
- Deal mostly with the character’s relationships with friends and family and real-life situations
- Does not involve much self-reflection
Young Adult (YA)
Young Adult novels are aimed at readers aged 12-18, although the range is flexible. These books explore themes relevant to teenagers, including coming of age, self-identity, personal growth, romance, and social issues. YA literature has more complex language and writing style compared to Middle Grade, and tend to be longer, giving space for deeper themes and character growth. This category serves as a bridge between childhood and adulthood.
Some common characteristics of Young Adult books:
- Generally between 50,000 and 75,000 words
- Main characters are between 15 and 18
- Most often told in first person
- Profanity and graphic violence are permissible
- Romance is allowed, but not eroticism
- Usually focused on how the protagonist fits in a grownup world beyond their family
New Adult (NA)
In 2009, St. Martin’s Press held a writing contest calling for “fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult.’” This sparked a still developing genre with its share of controversy. Many people reduce it to salacious YA and some booksellers think it’s a marketing sham. The claim of NA books being overly sexual YA romance novels persists, making it hard to gain traction in bookshops and marketing. New Adult can best be described as the age category after Young Adult, sometimes blurring into the Adult category. It targets 18–29-year-olds.
Some characteristics of New Adult:
- Word count can be anything up to 120,000
- Protagonists are technically young adults (18 and over) transitioning from adolescence to adulthood
- Most often told in first person
- Content is more advanced than YA novels, including explicit language, sexual situations, and complex emotions.
- Some common examples of issues in NA novels are first jobs, starting college, engagements and marriage, starting new families, financial independence, and loss of innocence
From the imaginative realms of Middle Grade novels to the roller coaster ride of self-discovery in Young Adult to the transition into adulthood of New Adult literature, each category offers unique experiences for readers at different stages of life. If it were up to me, I would rename Young Adult “Teen Fiction” and NA “Young Adult” for total accuracy.
The Middle Grade and Young Adult categories are well-established and don’t have the precariousness that plagues NA. Right now, NA has a strong showing on Wattpad and is very popular on TikTok. Given the hesitancy of the term New Adult in traditional circles, consider using the phrase “X with crossover appeal” instead of NA in query letters and pitches.
Regardless of age, these three types of novels provide a gateway to different worlds and new ideas, using relatable characters to help impart life lessons. So, whether you are interested in adventure, comedy, teen angst, or the challenges of new adulthood, there is always a book for you. For more tips and discussions about the world of writing, check out my other blog posts in Letters from the Editor.