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Age of main characters in middle grade?

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I was just wondering if anyone has thoughts on this!

The main character in my middle grade novel is 14 years old. In the second book, she is 15, and I plan to keep writing more novels in the series where she grows older (until age 18).

This presents a bit of a quandary, as I know that teenage main characters in MG has become increasingly uncommon. Years ago, this was the norm for children's books (think of Anne of Green Gables, Betsy-Tacy, etc...) But the genre has shifted, and now there are hardly any 14-year-olds in MG, let alone 17- or 18-year-olds.

In the successful Penderwicks series, the first four books follow the same main characters (four sisters who are middle grade-aged). By the last book, they are in their late teens/twenties and therefore can't be the main characters anymore, so their 11-year-old half sister becomes the MC. But readers weren't invested in this character at all, so many of the fans were disappointed/dissatisfied with the conclusion of the series. They just wanted the older girls to be the MCs!

I'd appreciate any thoughts! :)
#1 - February 16, 2019, 06:51 PM

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I think you have two questions. Maybe?

First is the question of age in middle grade. I think what makes middle grade "middle grade" is, at heart, the way it's approached/the tone and perspective, etc. But close to that is age. And most middle grade characters top out at age 12, maybe 13 for some. (The characters, I mean. The readers are younger, like 4th or 5th graders.) So to  have a 14YO character feels like you're already in YA territory to me. 14YOs are freshmen in high school. Again, the tone of the story is an element, too. But the ages you are listing are going to be characters involved in much different experiences than middle grade.

Second is the question of aging up. I completely agree with you on the Penderwicks. I wanted to know what happened with the original characters. The little sister was cute, but I was really more invested in the others, and then the last story wasn't through their eyes at all. My personal, subjective feeling is that readers would rather follow a character they love as they age up than to switch characters with every book just to keep a book middle grade. I mean, imagine if JK Rowling decided that Harry at 15 was too old for MG, so now we were going to switch focus to Colin Creevey's little brother Dennis. Really, not so interesting! It does make things a little tricky for shelving purposes, but I just think that readers get invested in a character, and want to follow them.

Then again, if you just make it YA to start out with, then I think you don't have that problem.

I wonder if anyone else has dealt with characters moving from MG to YA here.
#2 - February 16, 2019, 08:13 PM

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I think there are a number of MG series that age the MC (or main secondary character), but they generally start under 14

Percy Jackson goes from 12 to 18.
Valkyrie Cain from Skullduggery Pleasant is in her 20s now I think.
Alex Stowe in The Unwanteds  goes from 13 to 17 and then up to 27
#3 - February 17, 2019, 07:04 AM
« Last Edit: February 18, 2019, 05:58 AM by David Wright »

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The Harry Potter books are a good example of how to age a character up. Harry ages with his readers and moves into YA territory. The books are shelved there as they get darker and include more romance.

But to be middle grade, you'll have to start younger and then see where things go. You might be able to stay middle grade if your themes do.

I'm pretty sure even Anne of Green Gables is 11 in book one. I'm about half way through it with my daughter.
#4 - February 17, 2019, 10:00 PM
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