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Change voice or change age of protag?

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Hi, I appreciate your thoughts here.  Thank you.

My question:
Should I revise my ms to try to achieve a consistent MG voice and protag and deem my novel MG? Or should I adjust my protag's age to be a bit older to match her voice and mental capability and deem my novel YA?

The facts:
I've written a fantasy novel with a 12 year old female protag.  The theme is whether getting a super-freak power is a blessing or a curse (this is not a save-the-world type of power). My protag accidentally traps her parents in another world and she must save them.  She lacks self-confidence because of a childhood speech impediment. She is still teased at school for it.  So her arc ends with her ability to stand on her own, strong and sure of her decisions and actions.  She must unravel the secrets of her family's history and legacy in the real world and eventually survive dragon attacks and time shifts in the world where she trapped her parents.

The reason I am asking:
My CP and a couple agents thought the story YA though I classify it as MG.  For example, an agent who read the full ms and wrote in editorial notes: "The voice is a bit uneven at times. At the beginning, I thought the [protag] was a teenager and that I was reading a young adult novel. A lot is the formal language she uses, which while she can certainly [use] some "big" words, there was too much of it to sound authentically middle grade. The voice does sound younger as the story progresses, but even then [protag] is too often self-aware for her age."
#1 - July 20, 2015, 07:09 AM
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This is hard to answer without seeing the actual work. The concept sounds middle grade to me, though. Age alone doesn't make a book YA. The themes would have to be YA too. Which set of readers will be more interested in your story? Can you try a chapter or two each way and see which works better? Sometimes that's the only way to figure this stuff out. I hope this helps.

#2 - July 20, 2015, 07:55 AM
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I agree with Debbie. The story you are trying to tell feels middle grade, and I think the story and the voice need to match. I'm saying this without reading it, of course, but if you want a young adult voice, I believe you might want to "up" the story elements so that they are more YA.

#3 - July 20, 2015, 08:12 AM
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This sounds like a MG novel to me.

A MG protagonist can have a good/large/precocious vocabulary if the character is very bright; for example, in COUNTING BY SEVENS or in MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS or in the ALCATRAZ books by Brandon Sanderson.

#4 - July 20, 2015, 09:02 AM
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Thank you. 

My protag is quite intelligent.  I have seen people mistake speech impediments for a lack of intelligence within the affected person. Not that anyone here is! Just my reasoning for why I made her above average intelligent. I included support in the story for her having the capacity for an excellent vocabulary. My protag is not an avid reader (a result of having a speech impediment). But her dad is a voracious book reader with a library in the house and who also reads aloud and quotes what he reads to my protag. But I suspect I need to bring this out more to make my protag's vocabulary make sense. But I do also want to review and adjust her voice so it is not jarring to a reader (including an agent) expecting middle grade.
#5 - July 20, 2015, 09:21 AM
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Vocabulary and intelligence aside, a twelve year old girl is still a twelve year old girl and is going to react to certain things the way a twelve year old girl would. I suspect her actions and emotions maybe read too old as well for others to think the book feels YA. As others have said, it's hard to judge without reading. I also think the plot sounds MG. I'd suggest you read some comparable MG books, and see how they differ. It might give you a clearer idea of where your MC is coming across too teen.
#6 - July 20, 2015, 09:36 AM
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Debra, I agree with all the comments you've already gotten. As you describe it, this story fits squarely into MG territory. So if I were you, I would definitely work on the voice, which it sounds like already has some inconsistencies (you mention that some readers thought it sounded younger later in the novel). And as you and others have noted, 12-year-olds can have both high intelligence and large vocabularies!
#7 - July 20, 2015, 09:38 AM

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Chiming in to agree. This definitely feels MG. She can have a high vocabulary without sounding YA. Of course, I haven't read it, either, but I suspect the feedback you're getting isn't about vocab per se. Is she *emotionally* 12?

Congrats on the personal feedback you're getting. If the agents are sending you notes, you're getting close.  :goodluck
#8 - July 20, 2015, 09:42 AM
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Continued thanks.

I have read and am reading comps.  If there are any general suggestions for a true MG voice, I'd appreciate it.
#9 - July 20, 2015, 09:45 AM
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"A true MG voice..." I happen not to believe we have definitive examples of it. Try BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE for starters. It's an accepted "true MG voice." But is it authentic? I never thought so, (I love the book) and I never thought Junie B. Jones (also books I like) was a "true kindergarter's voice." These are literary versions we have come to accept as true voices.
In my WIP, one of the characters is precocious. His voice in dialogue reflects this, but the other kids dialogue lines show a more typical age-appropriate vocabulary. So you see, it's a balancing act that requires discernment, and without tackling specific lines and paragraphs it can't be done right.

Everyone above mentioned that the story's premise seems MG and I concur. Wanting to save your parents and needing them in this high-stakes way is more MG. You can re-work dialogue lines, and if the story is told in first person, re-work some of the narration. Do-able!  :clover
#10 - July 20, 2015, 12:39 PM
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A fellow writer in my critique group had a similar issue, and ultimately decided her work was MG. I agree with all those above who said that the themes in the book sound like they are MG.

Are you around a lot of 12 year olds? Hanging out with 12 year olds could be a great way to find the voice you are looking for. (Friends' children, family members are a good place to start.)
#11 - July 20, 2015, 01:09 PM

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