Dear MG Minded,
I'm really glad I found this group because I write MG and YA novels myself. Can you guys help me with a pressing question? My character is a fifteen year old girl. I made her fifteen because the story has a strong romantic subplot where she meets her first real boyfriend and gets a first kiss. I thought twelve was too young for that experience and thirteen and fourteen are in the dreaded tween range, which I'm told is hard to market. Still, a lot of people who read my novel think the MC comes across a lot younger, in the tween years. If I move her age down to twelve, can she still have romantic experiences and would any middle graders be interested in that?
I’m glad you found us too! We always love to see more MG/YA writers in this community. As for your question, there’s no 100% straight forward answer, but there’s a couple of things you should consider.
The first thing is the age of your main character. Fifteen can sometimes also fall in the no man’s land in terms of age and fitting in to MG vs YA. Kids usually read up so the characters they read about are usually, but not always, older than they are. That said fifteen typically falls in lower YA territory. If your character is presenting as young, you could consider reworking her to sound more age appropriate at fifteen.
On the flip side, the other consideration is the appropriateness of romance in MG. Middle Grade is very much about discovery and figuring out where one fits into a group. It also has a lot of firsts, especially when you hit the upper middle grade where the main characters are typically twelve and yes, also thirteen. Upper middle grade often deals with those tween/middle school years, where kids are learning to navigate their lockers, their classes, their friends, and their first crushes. In upper middle grade crushes and innocent first kisses can happen.
So if your character does in fact present as a tween and is experiencing her first crush and first kiss, but not much beyond that I would say you are squarely falling in that upper middle grade range. Making her twelve or even thirteen shouldn’t make your book unmarketable. In fact, I had an agent once recommend that I make my main character thirteen and pitch it as upper middle grade. So the market is there for that.
That said, I’d be hesitant to go as far as calling it a full blown relationship even in upper middle grade. A little innocent romance is typically fine because kids are starting to feel that interest and those crushes. Do keep in mind, if the romantic subplot goes much beyond that point of the first crush/kiss stuff, you’re probably heading into YA territory. Romance beyond those innocent first couple of steps is fairly rare in middle grade. As long as you are sticking to that sense of innocence and firsts you should be okay in the upper middle grade realm.
Hopefully that helps as this can be a tough call.
What do you guys think about MG and romance? How much is too much? Where is the line between romance in MG and romance in YA?
Thanks to Chuck for the question and allowing me to post it on the blog!
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