Yolanda Ridge

Middle Grade Author

Middle Grade Grows Up

As you know from my reviews of  We Are All Made of Molecules and I’ll Give You The Sun, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG) books. Two of my recent works-in-progress have straddled the line between these two categories of children’s literature so I wanted to explore the line between YA and MG in more detail.

Generally speaking, MG fiction is aimed at 8 to 12-year-old readers. MG books typically feature main characters that are at the upper end of this age group and focus on family, friends, and school.

YA is generally aimed at the over 12 crowd but has an increasingly large following among adult readers. It tends to tackle more complex issues and there’s no limit on things like swearing, sex, and substance abuse. Main characters are usually 15 to 18-years-old.

So what do you do when the main character is thirteen or fourteen? This is an age that is ripe for exploration as kids are seeking more and more independence and taking on bigger and bigger challenges. What happens when you have a 12-year-old reader who’s not yet ready to be exposed to things that might be considered restricted?

You sometimes see MG split into upper and lower, with “upper middle grade titles” being marketed to 10 to 14-year-olds but this is a not an official category. I’ve been told in the past that anyone besides the most established of writers should avoid writing in this “literary black hole”.

Trouble in the Trees and Road Block were marketed toward 8 to 12-year-olds. Inside Hudson Pickle – which is longer with more complex subplots that includes the possibility  that Hudson’s uncle is using drugs – is marketed toward 9 to 12-year-olds. This could mean that my first two books were more “lower” and my third is more “upper”. Or it could just be a difference between the publishers. Inside Hudson Pickle was rejected by one publisher because it mentions drugs. Period. It was rejected by another because it wasn’t edgy enough. Luckily, Kids Can Press thought it was “just right” because it introduces young readers to the dangerous of drugs without showing any illicit use.

In an effort to avoid falling off the tightrope between YA and MG, I wrote my book Cruelty Free with a 15-year-old main character. Based on feedback that the voice was more MG, I’m re-writing it with a 13-year-old main character. My book Reasons to Tell started with a 13-year-old main character but has been described as more YA so I’m re-writing it with the main character as a 15-year-old.

It’s enough to make your head spin! And I’m not the only one getting caught in the storm.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors posted about the Blurred Line Between MG and YA with some great book recommendations and interviews with their authors. Project Mayhem also provides a list of “Gray Area” Stories: Novels for Older Middle School Readers. A similar list is available in the Publishers Weekly article, Middle Grade Books Take on Mature Topics, along with some suggestions to booksellers on where to shelve this types of titles. And Stacy Whitman shares my confusion on The state of MG vs YA when YA is so much older now from an author’s perspective that is very similar to my own.

It definitely feels like I’m walking on a tightrope writing between MG and YA and I know I’m not alone. I just hope it’s the young readers that are ultimately pulling the string.

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Kamloops here I come!

I’m excited to be heading back to Kamloops for School District 73’s Young Authors’ Conference. This year I’ll be presenting a workshop on The Magic of Three. Looking forward to meeting the other presenters and being inspired by the next generation of authors!

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More Authors for Earth Day

Here’s the article about my visit from the Rossland News:

Rossland author pays Earth Day visit to RSS 

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Authors for Earth Day 2017!

I had so much fun meeting with Mrs. Cyndi Smith’s grade 4/5 class at Rossland Summit School on Thursday! As part of my commitment to Authors for Earth Day, they voted to donate my appearance fee to the World Wildlife Fund.

Looking forward to visiting three more local schools thanks ta Creative Spark Art Starts in the Class Columbia Basin Trust Grant!

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BC Arts Council Grant

I’m thrilled to be the recipient of a BC Arts Council Creative Writing Grant to help with the completion of my current work-in-progress, Reasons to Tell. Read more about it in this article by the Rossland News.

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I’ll Give You The Sun

Title: sun_375wI’ll Give You The Sun

Author: Jandy Nelson

Publisher: Dial Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0803734968

Like We Are All Made of Molecules, I’ll Give You The Sun straddles the line between middle grade and young adult fiction. Unlike We Are All Made of Molecules, I’ll Give You The Sun falls much more solidly into the young adult category.

This book is also told from alternating points of view, twins named Noah and Jude. Interestingly, the chapters from Noah’s point of view are told when he was thirteen-years-old and Jude’s chapters come three years later when she is sixteen. This is not just a gimmick, it is part to the story. In Noah’s chapters, the twins are close and life is pretty good. In Jude’s chapters, the twins have lost their bond, their personalities have switched and it is clear that something has happened to blow their lives apart.

As the story progresses, going back and forth between Noah and Jude’s narratives, readers discover what happened and layers of secrets and deception get revealed. Although Noah (and Jude) are obviously younger in his chapters, the word choice and content may still be uncomfortable for younger middle grade readers.

I’ll Give You The Sun is a powerful, heart wrenching story about art and loss. It has a message for readers of many different ages but will resonate most with those mature enough to relate to the myriad of emotions explored.

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We Are All Made of Molecules

Title: We Are All Made of Molecules6-11-14-molecules-2

Author: Susin Neilsen

Publisher: Tundra Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1770497795

This book is aimed at a slightly older audience than most of the books I include on this site (in some places it is listed as middle grade, in other places young adult). I’m including it because it’s good – very good – and also because the categorization of books based on age is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

It is told from the alternating view points of thirteen-year-old Stewart and fourteen-year-old Ashley, who are thrown together when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Although Stewart is gifted (or perhaps because of it), he is socially immature and the chapters told from his perspective are clearly middle grade. But Ashley, although only one year older, is in some ways precocious putting both her voice and the content of her chapters into the young adult category.

The book tackles mature content matter, most notably the fact that Ashely almost gets raped, which  may be difficult for some younger readers to process. (It was difficult for me, as well, but likely in a different way and for different reasons.) Still, I would argue that preteen readers should be exposed to some of these issues in the safely and context of the book before they are experiencing it themselves.

This is a topic I will be addressing in future posts. Age of main character, target audience, and content maturity is an issue that’s affecting my own writing a lot lately. In the meantime, I highly recommend We Are All Made of Molecules for middle grade readers (and above) who are ready to tackle more challenging content and love a good book!

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Inside Hudson Pickle Description

Here’s the blurb from Books-A-Million, Amazon, Indigo, Barnes&Noble, and Indiebound:

Cut from AAA hockey last season, seventh-grader Hudson Pickle needs to make the basketball team this year. But, after having an asthma attack at the first tryout, his chances aren’t looking good. His former best friend, Trevor, is also trying out. But he won’t even speak to Hudson since Hudson had all but ignored him while concentrating on hockey. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, now his uncle Vic — who’s been staying with him and his mom since a suspicious fire at his house —has been diagnosed with a genetic respiratory illness. Could this mean Hudson has something worse than asthma? And while this DNA mystery is being unraveled, will the truth about what happened to his father finally be revealed as well?

Yolanda Ridge’s compelling coming-of-age novel for middle-graders combines humor, action and mystery — with a dose of genetic science to keep things interesting. It offers a rich reading experience with complex characters and a multilayered story. Thoughtful, authentic and likeable Hudson will inspire readers with the grit and perseverance he relies on to get through his difficulties, and the self-deprecating wit he uses to manage middle-school social dynamics, evolving friendships and a changing family structure. There are also multiple mysteries running throughout the story — involving Hudson’s father, his uncle and his own health — that are sure to keep the pages turning.

It’s already available for pre-order but won’t hit the shelves until September!

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Cover Reveal!

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It’s off to the printers! Hitting the bookstores in September. More information to follow!

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Gold Rush Bookstore Grand Opening

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