I confess that I am in my mid twenties and I am an avid reader of middle grade books. For those not in the know, middle grade is the industry term for books marketed to 9-12 year olds. Granted there are some middle grade books that overlap with YA, but the focus of this article are those books that for various reasons do not overlap.
A partial shelfie of my middle grade collection. Some are newer titles, others are some classics from middle school. I wholeheartedly recommend every book/series in this picture!
I started writing this article a few days before the controversial Slate editorial against adults reading YA. I was annoyed by how many times bookstore workers side-eyed my browsing in the kid’s section. Now it’s even more important that I put this out there.
This passion started when I was that age and hasn’t let up since. Although I wavered between business biographies, adult history, and fiction in middle school; I always returned to the books my classmates couldn’t get enough of. (Yes that was not a typo. I read Lou Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? in 7th grade with as much fervor as Harry Potter installments!) As I grew up, I still went back to the middle grade sections to reread my favorites and find new books to enjoy.
In broad terms, middle grade books appeal to me for many of the same reasons adults love YA. Last month, I started a marathon read marathon of everything Rick Riordan has wrote. Mythological adventures were a perfect antidote for a mind tired of processing complicated political science assigned readings. Reading is one of the best forms of escapism out there. Not only did I find a good story, there are many elements in his books that speak to much deeper themes beneath the surface. Middle grade is just as likely a venue for profound literary themes as YA or even adult books. Even though most characters are younger than me, there are personality traits, reactions to plot developments, and situations I can identify with.
Current trends in adult books are also pushing me to read outside of my target age group. Although readers in their twenties are hungry for books catering to them, the supply of “new adult” books isn’t keeping up with demand. Many are looking for novels about self discovery and similar themes and aren’t finding these stories in the adult section of the book store. Quite a few authors have been told by publishers to make their mid 20’s characters teenagers because there isn’t enough interest. Most of the current “new adult” books are romances and need more representation of other subjects.
YA is currently dominated by John Green and those inspired by him along with paranormal romance. John Green is quite good, but I definitely want to move beyond this trend. I have a strong interest in mystery and historical fiction, and usually I prefer it in conjunction with adventure. YA mysteries are often watered down by paranormal or romance elements. Speaking of romance, middle grade is my standby when I want a story with no romance elements at all. When it comes to stories of diversity and acceptance, I often find middle grade books written by diverse authors or featuring diverse characters much more satisfying than most YA selections.
There’s good, bad, repeated tropes, and overhyped books in every genre. Completely rejecting one genre or age group is closing off your reading options in an unhealthy way. Readers should pick out what they enjoy. There is no grade at the end of reading for leisure. I hope these confessions help others to reject the elitism and criticism and embrace good stories no matter what age they’re marketed for.
[Note: TDHN is in semi hibernation as I attend Columbia Journalism School. Please keep a bookmark or leave on your follow list so when there’s a new post you can find it! Thanks for all of your support!]
This personal essay/opinion piece was my first TheDailyHeyNow article after getting accepted to Columbia Journalism School. Originally published June 8, 2014.