How old is a young adult? According to some public libraries the answer is ELEVEN.
Our public libraries categorize books as Juniors (J) and Young Adult (YA). The age and grade of the book's main character determines how a book is labeled. Junior means the main character attends third through sixth grade. Young Adult means the main character attends seventh through twelfth grade. Libraries also consider whether a book discusses sensitive topics before labeling it.
Matching books with readers
As a writer, we keep both readers and publishers in mind.
According to publishers, middle grade books are geared for those children age 8 to 12. Young adult books are geared for teens age 14 to 17. And in the land of publishing 13-year-olds are in limbo. Some literary agents state that middle grade fiction means the main character attends middle school. While others in agent land treat age 13 like the 13th floor of a building, the missing floor.
LIAR & SPY by Rebecca Stead is a perfect middle grade novel. The main character's age, language and conflicts are geared to an 8 to 12- year- old reader. In our library, LIAR & SPY is labeled YA. Which means an elementary school age child needs to browse the young adult section to find LIAR & SPY.
About the book: When seventh grader Georges moves into a Brooklyn apartment building,
he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy.
As a parent, I'm concerned about challenging my children without introducing content they are not prepared to handle. Schools use programs such as Accelerated Reader (AR) to determine a student's reading level in order to challenge him or her to read slightly above.
What's the take away?
Every library district has their own policy on shelving books. Ask your librarian. And if you consider yourself a middle grade writer, you may be surprised at your local library.