YA, NA and MG Fiction Defined With Recommendations

Most readers will be familiar with the genre of books referred to as YA, but what about NA and MG?

Young Adult (YA)Eleanor & Park
YA fiction generally contains novels written for readers aged in their teens, or more specifically between the ages of 13 and 20. The stories feature teenage protagonists and often explore themes of identity and coming-of-age. Having said that, YA novels can be from any genre, science fiction, contemporary, fantasy, romance, paranormal etc. Some popular YA novels include the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games series, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Middle Grade (MG)
MG novels are generally written for readers aged between 8-12 years, with main characters less than 13 years of age. Themes can include: school, parents, relationship with siblings and friends, being good or misbehaving. Just like every genre, some MG books can have an underlying message (e.g. be kind to animals).

Some examples of popular MG novels include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

New Adult (NA)A Court of Thorns and Roses
NA fiction is a relatively new genre in publishing, and in my opinion grew from the popularity of adult audiences reading and enjoying YA novels (Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars). The genre is situated between YA and adult fiction and protagonists are generally between 18-30 years of age. Themes include leaving home, starting university, choosing a career, sex and sexuality.

Some popular NA novels include: Slammed by Colleen Hoover (called CoHo by her fans), The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternA Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas and The Elephant Tree by R.D. Ronald.

On my TBR ListInheritance
I have a number of books on my to-be-read pile from the genres mentioned above, including: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob Grimm, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes and 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. What’s on your list?

Whether you enjoy MG, YA or NA fiction, the most important thing is that you don’t allow yourself to become pigeon-holed. Enjoy your reading, keep an open mind and explore new authors. You never know where your next favourite book might come from.

Australian YA: Soon by Morris Gleitzman

SoonOn my recent bookshop tour of London there were more books by Morris Gleitzman on the shelves than copies of The Book Thief. This is not to detract from Marcus Zusak’s famous and well-stocked literary export but means that there were many, many Gleitzmans on display, a fantastic achievement for our popular Australian children’s and YA writer.

I moderated a session with Morris and the beautiful Gabrielle Wang  several years ago at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The children in the audience were spellbound by the words of both authors and Gabrielle didn’t have enough hands for all the little girls who wanted to hold hers. Fortunately Morris gave me some warning about how the session would end. He jumped up and sprinted for the door to beat the kids to the signing table. I had to try to stop them running out after him. Luckily I had spent a number of years as a teacher so was able to summon my latent teacher authority. His queue then and now rivals that of Andy Griffiths‘.

Gleitzman prefers to describe his books about the holocaust, which begin with Once (Viking, Penguin), as a ‘family’ rather than ‘series’ of books. When Once was published in 2005 I wrote teacher notes about it here. http://www1.curriculum.edu.au/rel/history/book.php?catrelid=1877 Once

Each book is characterised by an inimitable structure where every chapter begins with the book’s title, such as ‘Once’, ‘Then’, ‘After’, ‘Now’ and ‘Soon’ and each book also begins and ends with this word. Now breaks the chronological pattern by being set in present-day Australia with Felix as an old man.

I reviewed After for the Weekend Australian in 2012 and said: ‘After takes the reader back to Felix’s trials during the war, at first to the underground hole which was his home for the past two years. When Felix leaves it to rescue his benefactor, Gabriek, what dangers will threaten him? … The effect of war and trauma on children and young people can be horrific and should not be underestimated. Stories about these issues can provide opportunities for characters such as Felix … to play out their roles and show readers how goodness can be kept alive to help mend broken places and people. Damaged young figures move forward with hope in books of this calibre and, ideally, will not remain broken.’After

Most of the books show Felix as a boy evading the Nazis. In the latest title, Soonhe is 13-years-old and the war is over. But it’s not. Many people are still treating others without compassion; injuring and killing them in ways they wouldn’t treat animals.

Felix is surviving in a hideout with his former rescuer Gabriek. He is forced to confront more atrocities of war and its after-effects despite his work as a child doctor, innate goodness and belief in humanity. Soon is a strong anti-war cry. It is so harrowing that I would recommend it for young adults rather than primary school children. It is dedicated to ‘the children who had no hope’. Gleitzman alerts us to evil but ultimately does give us hope in these important books.

The Book Burglar Meets The Book Thief

Considering the similarity of themes, titles, and habits (that is, a girl who steals books), it’s somewhat surprising that I hadn’t, until recently, read The Book Thief.

I know, I know. Given that it’s sold bucket loads in Australia, I must have been one of the only Australians not to have read it. But judging a book by its cover, I found the cover pretty bland. I’m naturally suspicious of any book that’s on the Top 100 Books list of the tried-to-pull-a-swifty-on-the-publishing-industry Angus & Robertson retail chain. And a book about a little German girl who steals books during WWII sounded slightly too Anne Frank-derivative and a lot heavier than I could enthuse myself to read.

But I finally succumbed over the Christmas period (mostly to enable me to comment intelligently on it when people pointed out the similarity between its protagonist’s and my own penchant for snatching books) and am pretty pleased I did.

The whole death-as-omniscient-narrator thing grated in the too-slow beginning, but thousands-of-people-can’t-be-wrong logic and Markus Zusak’s unusual turn of phrase kept me reading—as much to try to determine just how he came up with such clever constructions with such a lightness of touch.

Which is where he won me over.

I mightn’t think it’s the best book ever (to be fair to it, my expectations were sky high given the preceding hype) and I might have thought the narrative mechanisms and structures were at times a little twee, but I was impressed by Zusak’s ability to imbue life into (and help me see myself in) a small girl inexplicably driven to acquire books—even when she lacked the literacy skills to read them.

Above and beyond that, I owe Zusak a debt of gratitude for helping explain and justify my almost-physical need to commandeer books. I might not be a young orphan in Nazi Germany who needs books to help make sense of and develop a sense of security in the world, but the book-loving, book-hoarding compulsion transcends countries, languages, and borders. I now understand how a writer in Sydney could craft a story about Nazi Germany based on tales he heard growing up and why the story, which is as much about a love of books as it is about humanity, is selling well.

He might be a grown man writing about a young girl, but methinks that in creating that character, Zusak was channelling (and maybe publicly confessing and embracing) his inner book thief.

Beg, Borrow, Or Steal (But Mostly Only From Family)

Fahrenheit 451It’s dangerous to allow family members to spend any length of time in my room, because any visit invariably leads to the same thing: a casual perusal of my bookshelf followed by an indignant ‘Hey! That’s my book!’

Indeed, I’ve earned something of a reputation among my family for only buying them books I want to read, reading the books before I hand them over, and then feigning innocence when they notice their books on my bookshelf later on. They christened me ‘The Book Burglar’ long before Markus Zusak’s novel of a similar name was penned, but I refuse to apologise for my voracious book appetite and my love of looking after books.

It should be noted that the only people I steal from are my immediate family and that it’s technically not stealing if I paid for the book in the first place. Besides, I’m pretty sure that book thieving runs in the family. Case in point: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I’ve heard that the book’s a classic, a must-read up there with Orwell’s Animal Farm and Huxley’s Brave New World, but I wouldn’t know. My brand, spanking new copy disappeared from my bookshelf before I’d even cracked the spine.

Two years since it disappeared, it’s become something of a bone of contention with my brother (AKA Prime Suspect #1), with the issue raising its ugly head around gift-giving birthdays and Christmas. Ever the peacemaker, my mother maintains that the book’s just slipped down behind something and will turn up. My sister considers it book thief karma. My brother staunchly maintains his innocence (some would say too staunchly). And my insomniac father tries to stay out of it—I’ve awoken at least twice in the wee hours of the morning in recent times to see him sifting through my bookshelf for reading material to consume the hours he can’t sleep. He knows that he’s Prime Suspect #2.

Whether or not I ever get to read Fahrenheit 451 remains to be seen (I refuse to purchase the same book twice and there’s currently no one in my family game to buy it lest they be accused of the crime), but I maintain that book thieving is genetic and if I’m guilty of book theft, so too are my guilty-until-proven-otherwise Fahrenheit 451-thieving family.

But surely I’m not alone in this passion for books? Surely there are others so passionate about books and reading they’re prepared to beg, borrow, or steal (from family members only) to satiate their reading appetite? C’mon. Which books have you commandeered for your bookshelf? Which books have been commandeered from yours? And do you know the whereabouts of my Fahrenheit 451?

CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK: Sandy Fussell

White Crane “…Why don’t you write proper books?” I’m often asked by friends.

I write on the frontier of Australian story telling. It’s a wild and woolly place. A little bit dangerous even. There are Dragonkeepers and Ranger’s Apprentices. A Book Thief and a Bugalugs Bum Thief. You can go Hunting Elephants or into the Teenage Underground. There’s even a Pencil of Doom and my own Samurai Kids.

I’m a children’s author.

We’re raising the imagination stakes, encouraging a love of reading and opening the door to critical thinking. We’re always entertaining, sometimes educating and often making our readers laugh.

Children and young adults are not easy to write for. They won’t tolerate a story that doesn’t immediately engage their attention nor will they read a tale with an overt lesson. Their own ideas rival the most fantastic of storylines. They have widely ranging reading abilities, life experiences and interests. The youngest of readers need to be handled with care and the older readers exposed to new thought. It’s an enormous challenge and a lot of fun.

When I write for children, I get to tell the stories I want to hear. Another children’s author once told me you write for the age you are inside. So I’m somewhere between ten and fourteen on any given day. I think that’s about right. I also enjoy being able to regularly interact with my readers in their classrooms, the library and the wider community. Children want to meet their authors and listen to their stories. There are no barriers or pretensions. I know from experience kids will ask almost anything!

Sometimes I get the big reward. “Your book was the first one I ever liked. I’m going to read another one.” The storytelling frontier is an exciting place where things are growing all the time. As a children’s author, I’m helping to grow enthusiastic readers and maybe writers as well. I love it!

Owl NinjaWant to win copies of the books in Sandy Fussell’s Samurai Kid’s series? All you have to do is email me a review of the last children’s book you read. You could’ve read it last night, last year, or even back when you were a kid. The catch? Your review has to be 20 words or less. In your email’s subject, be sure to write: ‘FICTION NOVELS FOR AGES 10+’