re: Is It MG Fiction If the Character Ages Into His 20s?

in Characterization/Narrative Voice/New Adult Fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am writing a manuscript that starts with the MC at 7 yearrs old. He soon turns 9, then 11, then 15, and so on. The novel ends with him in his mid-20s. The voice starts out young and I want to pitch it as MG, but at the very end of the book, he does sound more mature (with slight, gradual changes throughout as the story moves along). Is it wrong to label this as MG? Should I make the voice mature from the beginning to avoid the changes at all? Am I doing something wrong?? I’m so confused! Help!!

Thank you!

Dear Mary…

This is more a question of audience than voice. You want to pitch the story as middle grade fiction, but how many middle graders want to read about a mid-20-year-old? Or a 15-, 18-, 20-, 22-year-old? Will the take-away from the protagonist’s long character arc resonate more with a tween or an adult? He’s living through several developmental stages, each with a distinct sensibility and concerns. Crossover readers aged 18-44 do read MG, but they aren’t the primary readership. I suspect this story is better crafted for the adult or new adult markets, with grown readers in mind. You can start with that youthful MC, but it’s worth experimenting with an opening that allows readers to meet and connect with the older protagonist first. A flashback approach could show his younger self. Or, you could start with that 7-year-old and a more mature voice, hinting that there’s an older presence looking back. Your first step, though, is to definitively identify your target reader. Answer this: If you sat at a table and started telling this story, who would be sitting on the other side of that table?

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. I’d consider this an adult Bildungsroman. Plenty of classic books in the Bildungsroman genre are regular adult fiction, even if they happen to revolve around a character going from child to teen to adult.

  2. I can think of one example of a middle grade book that ends with the MC as a young adult–the Newbery-award winning THE WESTING GAME. The difference is that the MC is reader-age for all but the last few pages of the book. Based on your description, I would agree with the Editor and the previous comment that your story reflects a longer life journey. Dickens was a master, and John Irving is a more current example.

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