Last night, I was at a writer’s meeting, and I wanted to test out a new chapter with my nine-year-old protagonist. (This chapter is actually the first chapter in the 1.5 Messenger’s Book, and this was the second time I’d read it in public.) I have to smile because both times, I received open mouth looks and tight eyebrow stares. (Most of the other writers are thirty-five and up and have a concept in mind of what Middle Grade fiction should be.) While I won’t give away the subject matter yet, I mean the first Messenger Book is still getting tiny updates with new betas reading it. But I will say that the first chapter is a bit more hard core than your average middle grade fare, but not too far off from the overall flow of the Messengers.
Anyhoo, one of the members, brought up the fact that she didn't believe that the book was Middle Grade (MG), but more YA, i.e. Young Adult. In my defense, I tried to explain that MG is divided into 3 basic groups because children mature so fast: Early Readers, Level 2, and Upper Middle. And I explained I write Upper Middle Grade for kids age 11 and up, but some advanced ten-year-olds should be able to consume it.
My niece and nephew were the spark that motivated me back into the written word from screenplays. Both of them are voracious readers and my nephew in particular reads like there is no tomorrow. But, unfortunately for him, he quickly runs out of things to read. He told me he’s tired of reading about “How cute the lead boy is” for the twentieth time in the middle of a YA action novel. LOL I couldn't agree more. At eleven and twelve both of them inhaled the “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins which is high on descriptive violence. But here was an eleven-year-old that loved it. The kids explained to me that all their friends read it, and a quick look on Goodreads.com showed many parents saying the same thing.
The Messengers does have its share of violence and adult situations, but so is everything else in our world from video games to movies. Many of the places I've been on the web (blogs/articles) discuss the concept of what can be put in a MG novel. And the quick answer by most is - well - everything. I personally put into the books what I liked at that age – lucky for me I was a writer then, so I remember many of my ideas.
I believe that books should be real and that danger should be real as well. And with danger comes adult situations. Some places in the world have no problem with enlisting twelve-year-olds into an army or chopping a ten-year-old’s hand off if he steals. The Messengers is built on that grit, not on a simply fun story with cool tech. I don’t believe every MG novel should be all laughs and giggles, but at the same time I don’t think there should be decapitations galore. I wanted a story that is real to the actual emotions of middle graders expressing the sensitivity and beauty of being ages ten through thirteen with the adventure they dream of. That’s why I think the book is Upper Middle Grade for readers like my nephew and niece. Kids who want a bit more edge, but still need to be protected from other things. I hope anyone that one day chooses to read it will understand and appreciate that side of the story.