I don’t normally read a whole lot of middle grade. Even as a middle grader the genre annoyed me. Writers (or the people who buy the books) often look down upon middle grade audiences; oversimplifying everything, and giving the main character a voice that would better suit a small child rather than a pre-teen. Even with books like Artemis Fowl and the Bartimaeus Triliogy out there that have both challenging material as well as fiercely intelligent protagonists, many people assume that just because a middle grade novel is intelligent, it’ll loose its target audience.
This may sound like an unfair generalization, but I’ve experienced it firsthand. A few years ago, my mother wrote an excellent time traveling middle grade novel with an intelligent protagonist. Mel wasn’t unrealistic, in fact she sounded like many 12 year olds I’ve met. However, she constantly faced criticism from publishers on “Mel’s voice being too mature ”and the plot “too complex”. While these are all fair opinions, the middle school beta readers tended to disagree. They were avid readers who were all able to comprehend the book easily. This book, like the Artemis Fowl Series, was designed to appeal to intelligent and voracious readers, however, especially due to the new shape and attitudes of the publishing world, those in the industry were reluctant to venture out of the middle grade comfort zone. Perhaps this is due to a stigma about middle grade readers. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that more middle grade books are bought by the parents of readers than YA novels, and edgy material might not sell well. Whatever the reason, it drives me bananas.
Just because a reader is young doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be challenged.
More and more I find kids who, having outgrown the middle grade genre in elementary school, are now looking for books in the Young Adult sections. Middle Grade is being dumbed down, and avid middle school readers find themselves stuck between rock and a hard place. Read something basic, in which the main character makes stupid mistakes and your intelligence is insulted, or go above your reading level and get a good story… riddled with sex and violence and other age inappropriate topics. I don’t know about the average fifth grader, but I hated those sex scenes in books. Why were they even necessary? It was so gross.
Middle graders should have the option of intelligent books whos content is suitable to the life experiences of pre-teens. More and more young people are getting turned off from the genre because authors or publishers are too unwilling to take a risk. Yet in both the YA genre as well as books targeted towards adults, there are intelligent books for intelligent people. It is simply assumed that, while there is a market for novels like Once Upon a Kiss, or Twilight, there is also a market for more complex novels. Why shouldn’t middle grade be the same?
So why am I bringing this up now?
I’m bringing the topic of intelligent middle grade books up now because, just recently I read one. I am a YA reviewer, with occasional forays into adult books. However, I think it is important to acknowledge these less mainstream middle grade novels that struggle into the world despite criticism and complaint, if only for those poor middle schoolers who are tired of frantically skimming of yet another sex scene in order to read a book on their level. I want to promote these books whenever I find them, for both the kids as well as those authors and publishers who are trying to decide whether to take a risk.
Please feel free to share your comments below. While I’ve seen this issue crop up among middle grade audiences for years, it is just an opinion. I’d love to hear your observations!
Read my upcoming review of Heartseeker by Melinda Beatty for more middle grade musings.