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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Middle Grade Musings

One of the books I ordered from that amazing sale was categorized under Young Adult but was really Middle Grade. I read it yesterday with an eye toward whether or not I could write straight-up MG, since I already tend toward the young end of YA.

I'm not going to name the book here, not because I have anything bad to say about the novel per se, but because I'm focusing more on my own reaction to it, and I'd hate to come across as being critical of the book when that's not my intention.

In tone, this felt a lot like pieces I *have* written--just not long pieces. I don't know if I could write like this for sixty or seventy thousand words. I think I could; I'm not sure how much I'd like it, though. One thing that helped mitigate that twee-ness I often pick up from MG writing is that it was in first person. The young narrative voice helped keep it from having that grandmotherly voice that grates on me. Actually, it reminded me of short humorous pieces I wrote when I was about the same age as the protagonist--when I was a ninth grader.

It was innocent in content--not that this comes as a surprise. High school freshmen in MG books apparently crush all the time, but they never think overtly sexual thoughts or make overtly sexual statements. Or even much innuendo. They say "damn" and "crap" and possibly "hell," but nothing stronger than that. These don't read like real-life freshmen--they read like middle-schoolers (and innocent middle-schoolers at that), which is to be expected, given that middle-schoolers are the target readers.

There are other considerations beyond tone, though. I think the biggest one for me is the scale of the conflict. This book was about beginning high school, and all the changes that come with that. Now I know some MG books have higher stakes--life and death, even. On the one hand, the relatively low stakes in this book worked with the faintly humorous voice of the narrator. On the other hand, it made it hard for the book to grab my interest at first. There wasn't much happening beyond middle school friends drifting apart, crushes, new friends, and so forth. I would have liked a bit more adventure. Eventually the emotional stakes got high enough to carry me through to the end, but I could see some readers not making it that far.

So the bottom line? I don't know any more than I did before whether I could write on the MG side of the divide. I think I could hit that tone and keep the content down. What I'm not certain of is that I could come up with a plotline that would hold my own interest. In the bookstore, YA's are far more likely to intrigue me than MG's, but I'll keep my eyes open and keep learning the genre. Maybe Barnes and Noble with have another awesome sale.

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