Is Danger Peak Middle Grade, Young Adult, or Something Else Entirely?

courtesy Literary Hub

I suppose my assumption was correct last week when I said this blog is turning into a FAQ, so here’s this week’s Frequently Asked Question: Read the title of the blog! Okay, I’ll write it again for those too lazy to look up: Is Danger Peak middle grade, young adult, or something else entirely?

When I first started writing my book, I knew it wasn’t going to be a full-blown adult novel approaching 1,000 pages or more. (It’s amazing Stephen King doesn’t have arthritis.) But I thought I was writing a young adult novel. Then after reviewing my manuscript, a former agent told me it was probably closer to middle grade, while my cousin told me it was mostly meant for Gen-Xers (since it takes place in the ‘80s). Even one beta reader claimed that my ideal target audience is third graders, but we’re going to politely ignore that comment. (I’d like to think my vocabulary is slightly above an eight-year-old’s comprehension.)

I experienced my first wakeup call when I talked to that former agent. “I think your book is a middle-grade novel,” he said.

“Middle grade?” I asked. “What’s that?” (When it comes to literary genres, I thought they went from chapter books to young adult; I inadvertently skipped a stage.) For those who don’t know, and to be extremely reductive, middle grade is basically considered a step slightly below young adult in terms of word/page count and reading comprehension — in other words, books meant for kids in (where else?) middle grade as opposed to high school/college, which is the world of young adult.

At first I was offended by this comparison, until I discovered that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s Web, Mail-Order Wings, The Magic Moth, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, some of my favorite books of all time, are all considered middle grade. That’s not bad company to keep.

So if I have to pick a genre, I suppose Danger Peak is middle grade. Here are the main differences between middle grade and young adult:

  • Character ages. In middle-grade books, the main characters are usually aged 10-13 (middle-grade age), while in young adult, they’re in their later teens or early twenties (high school/college). Check for middle grade.
  • Page count is less than young adult. The page count of my book is around 200, whereas many young adult books go up to 350 or more. Check again for middle grade.
  • No sex or romantic relationships of any kind. Check and check again, though there is a somewhat pseudo-relationship with the character Rinnie and his crush named Barbara, but it’s merely for comedic effect, as most things with Rinnie are. This is no Twilight.
  • The book is plot driven, not character driven. Another check. My story is all about building the Action Bike and getting to the top of the mountain, not necessarily the angst of the main character or his fraught relationship with the rest of the “cast,” so to speak, though that does come into play. But building the Action Bike is the main MacGuffin. (In film terminology, it’s what drives the story.)
  • The main characters go on an adventure but never leave their town. This is true for my book as well. Despite the miscellaneous misadventures my guys get into, they never actually leave their hometown. Again, think “The Goonies” or even “Monster House.”

This is not to say that if you aren’t currently attending a junior high school, you won’t enjoy Danger Peak. Quite the contrary, as they say. If you grew up in the “Greed-is-good” decade as I did, you’re going to love it (I suppose my cousin was right), but from a purely technical standpoint, it appears Danger Peak is middle grade after all. Just ignore the fact that my editor keeps calling it “young adult.”


P.S.: For those who haven’t already, I’d like to remind people to sign up for blog updates to get a free book! Enter your email address and click “Sign Up” in the opt-in box at the bottom of the Blog/FREE Book page, and once you confirm your email address in an automatically generated email, you’ll be sent a free PDF copy of Lists, Life, and Other Unimportant Details, an over 270-paged collection of my best blogs and published articles of the past 25 years. This offer will not last forever, so sign up now before I change my mind!

P.P.S.: Next week’s blog: A Letter to My 12-Year-Old Self (This blog will be posted a day early on Wednesday because I won’t have time to post next Thursday.)

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