The Need For Younger YA
There's been a new rise in the discussion of the need for a "Younger YA" or an "Upper Middle Grade" which is a wonderful development. Even though it will be a long road to actually see this change executed in the publishing world, the more times we have conversations like this, and the more authors, like Angie Thomas, who call attention to the need for it and want to write it, the closer we'll get. I'm hopeful that one day, we'll finally have books to build bridges between middle grade and YA and YA and adult as we're missing the connection points on both sides.
I think that having books for the 12, 13, and possibly 14 year olds to read until they're ready for the gritty reality of YA is the most important spot we're missing because so many kids quit reading in that time. It's hard to stay dedicated to a hobby that doesn't seem to care about you anymore. Kids who love to read do find ways around it (continuing with middle grade, launching into YA early), or, like me, read classics to fill the space.
Through sixth and seventh grade when I'd devoured most of the middle grade books out there, I turned to my mom and my teachers, asking what I could read that would be challenging enough but also appropriate because that's still a real factor at that age.
I read lots of classics in the break between kids books. I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, and Little Women (though I'm still not sure if I finished that entire book). My mom started reading classics in her free time to see if they would be a. good fit for me. These books didn't feel like they were for me, and I didn't care for them quite as much as kid lit, but it kept me reading long enough to make it to YA.
Most kids, though, aren't attached to reading enough to settle for books that aren't quite right or scrounge for new books themselves. They want to see themselves directly represented. They still want to read up. There are only a sprinkling of books about freshmen and sophomores, and, where they exist, they're shelved with the YA that has 16 and 18 year old protagonists. They're too young for the kids who stumble upon them eventually, but they're the kind of books you look back at longingly, wishing you'd known they existed only a year or two before.
Beyond creating books with protagonists for this underserved age groups and telling them stories that are interesting to them and appropriate, we need to get better at subcategorizing YA because books for all of these underserved ages exist, they're just few and far between and hidden from view.
12-18 is a huge span of ages. Most 12 and 13 year olds don't even go to school in the same building as the high schoolers. They still haven't been exposed to what high school is like, and, reading about a junior or senior won't give them any insight into navigating freshman year. Not having some bridge category and lumping these kids in with the rest of the high schoolers is lazy and damaging to the overall goal of keeping people reading.
I'm glad that people with such sway in the YA community like Angie and others who hav joined the conversation are putting out the call and considering writing books for those kids. I also love that, not only are we pushing for those books to exist, we're pushing to label them as such. If there was better grouping of books by protagonist age, it would be far easier for everyone to identify the phase of life they're interested in reading about. It would make a more satisfying reading experience for everyone, allowing an awareness for the kind of content and appeal to expect from a book before you commit to it.
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Discussion of NA: Here
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Summer Bird Blue: Review Here
The Year They Fell: Review Here
99 Days: Review Here
Safe Space Books: Here