For some time I've been puzzled by libraries' inability to agree on whether a novel is middle grade (MG) or young adult (YA). Maybe I shouldn't be. It does seem sensible that there'd be a flow from one age group to another when one of them is defined as ages 8-12 and the other as 12+. At least, those are the usual definitions. The 10-14 category, sometimes called tween or upper MG, is aimed mainly at middle school and overlaps both traditional MG and YA. Surely, then, assigning a novel to an age group can't always be cut and dried. In fact, Gary Schmidt's novel Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy was both a Newbery Honor (books intended for readers no older than 14) AND a Printz Honor (equivalent YA/teen award) in 2005.
Yet...some observations. Writers can and do get rejected by agents and editors because their novels fall between the age cracks. (I haven't, but it happens.) It seems MG in some respects and YA in others, they're told, which is going to make reader identification and marketing difficult. I can understand this. BUT I could argue that a number of published books already do seem MG in some respects and YA in others, or some librarians -- professionally trained book people -- wouldn't shelve them as child, juvenile, or elementary fiction, while other librarians put them in their YA collections.
Another thing I observe is that YA is hot today. Does this mean YA stickers get applied to the spines of books more liberally these days? Sometimes it seems the general public considers any book that's younger than adult, and prominent enough that they've heard of it, "YA." John Grisham's Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer might be a case in point. It's been termed YA, and the main character is 13. But really, how "YA" is 13? In plenty of cases, not YA at all. Theodore Boone is MG -- especially since he pretty much announces early on that he's not into romance, thank you very much. Meanwhile, within the industry a romantic angle is considered all but compulsory for most YA fare.
I recently did my own highly unscientific survey of a few random titles in my public library system. Here's what I found:
Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen. Six libraries call it YA and three MG. It's a light romance, but begins when the kids are 7 and takes them to 8th grade. In maturity and content, this is light-years from a HS romance. BUT it has a YA-ish cover, and my guess is that's what determined the placement. My verdict: Upper MG.
Shakespeare's Secret, by Elise Broach. Six libraries call it MG and only one YA. This is a mystery starring 6th graders, and like most MG fare is concerned with outward plot and the wider community more than "Who am I?" questions. My verdict: MG. I know there's only the one YA designation here. But...why?
Masterpiece, also by Elise Broach. Here MG wins by a score of 10-0. It's not much different than the above title as far as type of book, BUT one of the main characters is a beetle. And he's on the cover. My guess is that this is why Masterpiece is labeled MG all the way, which it should be.
The Visconti House, by Elsbeth Edgar. MG: 2, YA: 2. Yup, a tie. In this one, a boy and a girl explore the mysterious old house her family just moved into. Does this one fall through the cracks into no-age land? In the end, I don't really think so. My verdict: Upper MG.
Makeovers by Marcia, by Claudia Mills. This is a light story about an 8th grade girl whose concern with appearance seems shallow until she gets into doing makeovers at a nursing home. Here, YA beats MG by a score of 3 to 2. My verdict: MG.
What do you think? How subjective is the MG/YA designation? Does it bug you when MGs are labeled as YA? Have you found any examples of YAs labeled as MG?