Teetering between MG and YA

Last weekend, I surprised myself by reaching the 24th chapter of my sixth draft. It seems like I might just be able to finish this draft before the new year. That was my initial intention, but as I slowly lost steam around the half-way point, I became resigned to the possibility that I will finish much later. I’m still thinking of giving myself some slack, because the holidays are a busy time of the year, and I don’t know what might come up and derail me.

But yes, I’m on chapter 24, out of 31 predicted chapters. Now that I’m nearing the end of this draft, I’m once again thinking about where in the MG/YA spectrum my story really falls.

Initially, I set out to write The Malicious Wind with an MG audience in mind. In particular, I thought of the 9-10 year-old me who would have loved an adventure story with flashy magic and mythological creatures inspired by my country of origin.

Granted, in the process of writing the story, of digging into the complications of the world, and of sharpening the character arcs, I might have pushed the age-level up unintentionally. The action scenes got more risky, and identity became the major theme of the novel.

I still tried my best to keep violence to a minimum. And even though my world is made up of multiple regions that have complex relationships with each other, these complications manifest only as 2-option choices for my protagonists (ie. “Do I team up with so-and-so, or not?”). In other words, I’m not really writing Megan Whalen Turner level of political machinations.

I have been reading a few articles, blog posts, and have even asked a couple of published authors about what really differentiates MG and YA. Here are some of the major differences I got from their answers:

MG

  • focuses on the protagonist’s role in their family and their community
  • the conflict is an “intruder” in their normal world, and its resolution returns the world to normal
  • complex issues are handled obliquely, with humour, or with side-characters experiencing them

YA

  • focuses on the protagonist’s relationships outside of family and community
  • the conflict is something inherent in their world, and its resolution forces the world to change
  • complex issues are tackled head-on by the protagonist, with insight into how they feel about it

So, as you can see, it’s a little hard for me to locate my story given these criteria. Both my protagonists have been separated from their family/found-family, and have the intention of reuniting with them at the end of the story. Both of them are unsure about their place in their community, but wants to belong in said community. The Malicious Wind is an intruder in their normal world and needs to be defeated, but in order to do that, they also need to defeat the power-hungry king. The only criteria that my story fulfills completely is that complex issues are faced by the protagonists head-on, and that pretty much makes it YA.

The thing is… I’m very reluctant to label my novel as YA. As someone who likes to read YA, I’m aware of current YA trends, and I can’t help but feel that my story just wouldn’t fit. It doesn’t have any romance in it, it’s not dark or gritty, and its narrative is pretty straightforward. I know there are other YA books that don’t have romance, or aren’t dark and gritty, or have simple plots. There are many YA books that are for younger teens, instead of the older audience being targeted by recent trends. But perhaps I’ve just seen too many Goodreads reviews of some amazing MG or lower YA books accidentally picked up by readers expecting an older YA novel, and were consequently given low ratings because the quality of writing is for younger readers.

I guess I just feel that the MG space, with its wide range of adventures and oftentimes whimsical atmosphere, would be a better home to my story. I don’t know if I’m just having a hard time relinquishing my original vision of this novel, and maybe after 6 revisions, the novel has a different vibe now. Maybe it will end up being more appreciated by older readers.

At the end of the day, I just don’t want to mislead anybody. I don’t want readers being bored because there’s not enough angst; or having nightmares because there are stabbings. I want them to try my story and feel at home in it.

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