A Widening Age Gap Between YA and Middle Grade (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!)

*Sigh* This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about and noticing for a little while now, but it wasn’t until I saw someone mention a similar idea on Twitter that I decided to share my ramblings.

Most can agree that Young Adult Books are books aimed at readers aged 13-18. Once you get younger than that, it is usually considered Middle Grade, and older than that could be New Adult or Adult. I’ve been reading YA since I was probably 12 or 13 so I’ve been with this age range for a while, and I’ve been seeing a recent trend that is a little worrying— the widening age gap between Middle Grade and YA books.

Back when I started reading I remember books such as Percy Jackson (could be considered Middle Grade), The Hunger Games, Legend, and Harry Potter. These books are all fairly clean when it comes to not being overly violent or explicit. They are suitable for tweens, teens, and adults. They were all enjoyable and great reads to get me into some more adult novels.

Lately I’ve been reading things such as A Court of Thorns and Roses, History is All You Left Me, and An Ember in the Ashes. I’ll be the first to say that I enjoyed ALL of these novels and even LOVED some of them, but they aren’t really suitable for younger readers. They touch on heavier topics and/or include more explicit content (whether it be cursing, sex, or graphic violence) and I wouldn’t be comfortable giving them to a 13 year old.

Don’t get me wrong, these more mature reads are GREAT! As I said, I’m a fan of all the novels mentioned above, but the issue comes when I can’t think of many lower level YA novels. Maybe I’m just ignorant in that age range, and I need someone to point these novels out to me, but I don’t see them circulating in YA circles online. This could easily get into another topic of why YA blogging is dominated by adults instead of teens. It could be because these people were always fans of books for that age range and just grew up with it and never stopped reading it, or maybe because not many teens know enough about blogging circles online to want to start a blog. I don’t think it’s inherently bad that YA has a strong adult reader base. Honestly, it’s good because that means where breaking down this stigma that YA in somehow lessor to adult novels. However, what I DO think is bad, is when the majority of YA novels become targeted at older and adult readers instead of the teen reader base they are supposed to be for.

The biggest example of this I can think of is Sarah J Maas novels. I first picked up Throne of Glass when I was in 9th grade. I’d say the novel is appropriate for people 14 and up only because there’s a lot of graphic violence. But as you read on in the series (specifically around Queen of Shadows) things get significantly more adult. At this point, I can hardly consider Empire of Storms YA… I’ve seen it described as “Not for younger readers” and this is true. I will NEVER understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to make this age jump MID SERIES. If I was a younger reader who just found this series, I would not be happy when I got to Empire of Storms and there were suddenly multiple sex scenes throughout the book. Similar to this, when I read A Court of Thorns and Roses I was really surprised by how explicit it was. The sex in these books is more graphic than anything I’ve read in an “adult” book. Maybe that’s because I don’t read very much adult lit and also don’t read much romance, but this novel is NOT YA. I would consider it New Adult (for readers aged 18-30). I would never be comfortable giving ACOTAR to anyone younger than 16/17. Maybe that is because I’ve grown up in a conservative area, in a fairly sheltered environment, but it doesn’t feel right as a YA book, and shouldn’t be marketed in the same section as books aimed at 13 year olds.

Basically, what I’m saying is that we need more novels aimed at younger readers. There shouldn’t be this gap between middle grade and YA because, what do the 12-15 year olds have to read? Excluding age ranges is a great way to make people disinterested in reading because they don’t feel they have any appropriate books to read. I can’t say I have a great solution to this issue because people can and should write whatever they want. No one should feel pressured to write anything but if we bring awareness to this growing gap, maybe things will change. Maybe, if we bring more attention to New Adult and make it feel more legitimate as a demographic, then some of these “upper YA” novels could be moved there.

What are your thoughts on this widening gap? Am I missing some super great lower YA books that I should check out? How do you think we should close this gap? What are your thoughts on New Adult? Do you have any great New Adult books I should check out?

17 thoughts on “A Widening Age Gap Between YA and Middle Grade (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!)

  1. As an adult reader I agree completely on the Maas debacle. I did not enjoy the ACOTAR series because I don’t like those graphic romance type novels. I enjoy fantasy and felt she didn’t deliver what was promised. And I hate how the ToG series shifted mid series. It’s infuriating. Not just for young readers, but adult readers who don’t enjoy explicit sex. It’s a problem when a writer wants the popularity of the YA category without actually writing YA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I forget adult there are adult readers who also don’t enjoy reading graphic sex scenes. I’ve started telling people ACOTAR is more romance than anything bc, while it is set in a fantasy world, the focus (for the first book at least) is a lot on the romance. The first book picked up more for me at the end but most of the book is just Feyre and Tamlin.
      I seriously don’t understand from a publishing and marketing perspective who would allow her to switch age range mid series. Maybe it’s bc SJM is now more of an established author and has a bit of an automatic reader base now but you’re isolating new younger readers. Could you imagine being 13-14 and reading til EoS then finding all these sex scenes? Ik I wouldn’t have been happy if that happened to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post! I never really thought about this at all. I do agree with everything, though.
    I don’t actually remember much of Queen of Shadows, but I was just sort of like shocked at A Court of Mist & Fury when I read it for the first time last year because of the sex. In the few adult novels that I’ve read, there’s actually less sex than in Sarah J. Maas’ books. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I’m just sort of worried for younger readers. I used to think contemporaries were better suited to younger readers, but some have quite heavy topics.
    I don’t really get why YA is just a broad target group. Like, Children’s Books have age targets like 0-4, 5-8, 8-12 (of something like that, it’s been a while since my internship so I’m a little out of it) and it’s not just reading level, it’s the topics. Why can’t YA have that?
    Plus: YA is pretty recent, right? I think that’s why a whole lot of adults also read it because when they were our age, they didn’t have that. NA is even more recent, but I don’t really go looking into that, because the first thing that puts me off are the covers, and then there’s always some kind of bad boy and unhealthy relationships and I’m like “Oh never mind I’ll stick to YA.” I think publishers should start using the NA category more with their books, and “YA authors” should pay a little more attention to their content (most do! but still, you can never be too careful).
    I’m so sorry for the long comment! Turns out I had a little more thoughts toward it than I thought… Hope it makes sense! 😉

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    1. haha the long comment is cool! I love long comments!
      I was able to read ACOTAR with being mildly shocked, then ACOMAF happened and wow… Towards the beginning I remember thinking “how is Feyre not pregnant yet?” bc her an Tamlin were sleeping together every other chapter. Then there’s scenes like the Court of Nightmares and when they accept the mating bond…
      I think the fluffier contemporaries are probably better for younger readers, but I can’t say much about that genre bc I don’t read it too often. When reading contemporaries, I usually go for some of the heavier topics bc that’s what I like. My friend was just laughing at me bc I seem to only be reading sad contemporaries at the moment, but I love them, even if they aren’t the most appropriate for younger readers.
      I didn’t realize Children’s book were split into more specific age ranges. That should definitely be a thing for YA novels, then I wouldn’t have to worry about a 12 or 13 year old picking up ACOTAR.
      NA needs more books and better marketing! I know it’s a new genre but I only really associate romance with it… This might be a correct assumption (that it’s only really romance) but I don’t know bc I never see anything marketed as NA and don’t really go searching for that genre.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t really realise that in ACOTAR (or I forgot, haha). It’s definitely the more fluffy contemporaries that are most suitable for younger readers. Some heavier topics should be okay as well, but it’s really up to the author.

        I’m not sure if Children’s book are split up everywhere, but in the Netherlands most bookstores have specific shelves per age category and there’s these NUR-codes on books like ### is for that age group and ### is for another. It’s super useful!

        It’s definitely a correct assumption that NA is mostly romance. I researched it once for a Twitter chat I hosted and it’s all about broody bad boys and messed up relationships and sex… Don’t mean to judge it but I’d never read anything marketed as NA just because it has that “feel” to it. It’s really too bad!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. UM YES FOR SURE. I feel like sometimes i just want to read a book with no romance but THEY’RE NOWHERE TO BE FOUNNNNNNNNDDD especially in libraries. It’s annoying. I mean at that age, you definitely need books for your age. When i was a smol penguin and tried to get certain books from my school library they wouldn’t let me because of ‘certain scenes’ even though i really wanted that book. So i just begged for it and ended up having it!

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    1. Very true! I used to HATE romance in books! (idk I was that 12 yr old that thought kissing was the grossest thing XD) lately I’m usually cool with romance but it can easily feel forced in fantasy or dystopian novels (don’t know if you’ve read it but the love triangle in An Ember in the Ashes is a great example).
      I went to a private middle school so they would literally not put books out at book fairs if they thought they were inappropriate. This lead to only middle grade and lower books being put out and pretty much no middle schoolers cared about that book fair XD
      Also I’m going to start using the phrase “smol penguin” to describe my younger self XD

      Like

  4. I was in a used bookstore last time and I noticed they had ACOTAR along with the children and middle grade books. *cringes* I quickly took the book out and placed it in the YA section. There really wasn’t a place for adult novels? 😅 😂

    The cover of the book is to blame. It looks like a children’s book. I found the pb of ACOTAR.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There is definitely a lack of a popularized younger teen category. I know they’re out there—I’ve read them and I see books at my library labeled as “younger teen”—but they do not seem to popular in the blogging world. If you’re looking for some younger teen books, I’d say check out Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls/Heist Society/Embassy Row series, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Rachel Hawkins’s Hex Hall/Rebel Belle series, and Lisi Harrison’s The Clique/Alphas/Monster High series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, since you mentioned a few in the group chat, I’m remembering more examples but it’s true that they aren’t really popular in blogging. At least they’re out there and I’ll come back to your suggestions if anyone asks me for lower YA
      Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Young Adult books need to say when they’re actually New Adult books. And better yet, even list when they have mature content. I don’t mind content that shakes up your thinking and encourages you to grow. But graphic sex and violence doesn’t do that.
    Both of those things just really bother me. I know Mass says she writes sex scenes because she thinks it should be normalized, and teens should be comfortable with talking about it. But there’s a big difference between the scenes Mass writes and Cassandra Clare’s writing. I know the characters have sex in The Infernal Devices, but it’s not a detailed orgy thing going on. Mass makes sex a primal, orgy. It’s not really beautiful, and practically, it’s not appropriate.
    I know teens are exposed to sex, but I don’t think we need to write it as something unrealistic and graphic.
    Also, violence is just something readers and authors need to be careful. War and gore shouldn’t be glorified. If an author is doing that, they need to just stop. To me, JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins did an excellent job handling war and violence. It was a necessary part of the story, but it wasn’t excessive or glorified.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some books will have a notice saying that it includes mature content, but I could be wrong about that… I’ve seen it mentioned in reference to SJM books.
      THIS IS WHY I SAY WE NEED TO ACTUALLY MAKE NEW ADULT A THING! Don’t just halfway do it and put all these romance novels labeled as “New Adult” but actually market other things in that demographic and maybe make it a subsection of YA in bookstores. We need a way to separate the more mature YA/NA from books aimed at 12-15 year olds.
      I agree with the SJM/ Cassandra Clare comparison. Cassandra Clare’s sex scenes are never overly graphic and I read those books in middle school (granted I think it was 8th grade but still). They’re appropriate for a YA audience. SJM just over does the sex and it becomes inappropriate for most YA readers. And I noticed while reading ACOTAR how she writes love/sex/attraction as this animalistic instinctual thing. I kinda just wrote it off as written that way bc the characters were Fae, and it didn’t really bother me again until late in the ToG series, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one who noticed.
      Very true that we need to be sure we aren’t glorifying violence in novels. It’s a sad part of our society and shouldn’t be looked at as good.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think personally that books don’t necessarily have ages attached to them. I mean, it really depends on the individual maturity of the reader. I read things and am still reading things way ahead of my time. I read YA as a 10-14 year old and now have switched over to mostly adult from about the age of 15. But that just depends on your maturity. Like you said, I would never suggest ToG for anyone in middle school, not so much for the violence, but for the sex scenes (and seriously, WHY did Maas switch to writing more mature content in the middle of series, WHY) that 11 year olds won’t understand. And I don’t particularly care for them. I mean, I think YA in general has seen such in influx in featuring romance and sex, far more than adult books. And I think, yes, sex and stuff needs to be talked about but it just all seems so unnecessary in these YA dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy books? And adult books just treat it more appropriately and also seem to have less romances to begin with. This post is so great, I haven’t seen any discussions like this around at all and I’m glad you talked about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree that it has more to do with the maturity of the reader than a specified age range.
      Yeah, especially from a marketing/publishing perspective, I won’t ever understand how no one told her to just keep the sex to the ACOTAR series. I’m more okay with it there bc those books have lots of sex from book 1, unlike ToG. But I still think maybe ACOTAR should be marketed more as New Adult… It would give the genre a chance to be known for something more than just romance (which parts of ACOTAR are heavy on romance, but it’s also fantasy).
      I’ve been noticing more romance and sex too! At first I thought maybe it was bc I was just reading more books aimed at an older audience but I couldn’t think of many popular books NOT aimed at an older teen audience.
      I totally agree that sex is something that needs to be talked about too, but yeah, don’t shoehorn it into stories just because it’s popular at the moment. That can ruin an otherwise perfectly fine novel
      Glad you liked the post and the discussion! It’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one noticing these trends 🙂

      Like

  8. I was having the exact same thoughts while reading the ACOTAR books. And it’s a frightening idea that most parents have no idea just how explicit these novels are, especially if they are not readers themselves. Loved this post and it touched on issues that I myself had been noticing!

    Like

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