Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult

The Wikipedia definition of Young Adult Fiction is, fiction marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughly ages 14 to 21. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the

The Lovely Bones

A YA in which a 14-year-old is the protagonist

 age and experience of the main character, but beyond that YA stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres.

If you look for the Wikipedia definition for Middle Grade fiction, you won’t find one.

Some of the defining points between MG and YA are the age of the protagonist, intended audience, subject matter, and word count.

Age of the protagonist and intended audience:  Typically, middle grade is intended for readers ages 8-12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range.  The reason for this:  while an 8-year-old would have no problem reading about a 12-year-old protagonist, a 12-year-old may be reluctant to read a book about an 8-

Dork Diaries

Dork Diaries is an MG with a 14-year-old protagonist


Subject Matter: MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. They do well with books they can relate to. They are still focused inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes can range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Kids at this age are also easily distracted,  so you want a faster pace and short chapters.

Young Adult novels deals with underlying themes and more complicated

Harry Potter

JK Rowling was an exception and a success

plots. It allows teens to examine deeper issues, what their role in life is, the differences a person can make, the importance of relationships, coping with tragedy, etc.  Protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. These books generally are more gritty and realistic and the teens choices and actions drive the story. You see less parental influence.
Word Count:  Middle Grade used to be 20,000-40,000 words, some say around 50,000 words.

Young Adult is generally more around 55,000 to 80,000 words.

Exceptions:  So while there are defining differences, there are also exceptions. 

Harry Potter and the Twilight series definitely exceeded the word count.

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold has a fourteen-year-old protagonist in what is considered a higher end YA or even adult novel.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, although intended for a much younger audience, the protagonist is an adult, a literal

Amelia Bedelia
An adult protagonist? It works well here!

 –minded housekeeper, and it definitely works for this series, making it a fun classic!

And what about those hybrid graphic novels that are so hot right now? I’m betting those fall under the normal word count, making room for all the illustrations.

With so many cross-over genre books for these age-ranges, there’s something for everyone to read and write. What differences do you notice most in MG and YA?



Rose Cooper is an author and illustrator with Random House Publishing. Her upcoming middle-grade humor series, Gossip from the Girls’ Room, A Blogtastic! Novel, will be published  January 11, 2011. Be sure to snoop out Rose’s website at www.Rose-Cooper.com.

Rose Cooper
  1. I am still unsure if my almost 13 year old protagonist is for YA or MG audiences. My word count is at 80,000–though it is a mystery, somewhat paranormal fiction. I’ve had several adult readers say they liked it too. There is political and unpopular beliefs within the story as well.

  2. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days.. 🙂

  3. I think that MG protagonists are often trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into their world against a background of family. YA protagonists are trying to figure the transition into adulthood.

  4. Rose, this is a good breakdown. I think another differentiating factor between YA and MG is voice, with YA protagonists often having a sassy or sarcastic voice. POV might be another factor. A lot of successful YA novels are in 1st person, reflecting that sense of identity you talked about.

  5. I agree with your differences. I think there are some books like Harry Potter, or The Red Pyramid or Janice Hardy’s The Shifter, that are upper middle grade books. They are a little more serious than those for 8-9 year old kids, but not as old and full of romance as YA books.

  6. I think some of the difference I’ve noticed over the last few years involves the intricacy of plot (much more complex issues — political, relationships, effective world-building for fantasy for YA). Of course, the love stories are also very different. MG can still have puppy love, tug at your heartstrings kind of love stories — much more innocence than fire. But the YA today is all fire when it comes to romance!