Monday, March 31, 2008

The Tween Thing

Tip of the Day: Tween books can be shelved in either the Young Adult or the Childrens' sections, and libraries and bookstores don't have a unified philosophy on this. You'll have to look in both places. Fortunately, it's fun detective work.

Unlike my other blog-partners-in-crime here, I haven't written much for older teens. I've always worked in the younger end of the teen spectrum. Actually, I feel like, with every work-in-progress, my characters are a little younger than the last. If you asked me what kind of novel I'm writing right now, I'd call it a tween novel.

Tween's sort of a new word in the writing world for upper Middle Grade that you might not feel comfortable reading to your 10-year-old. If I had to make up a definition--oh, and I am--I'd say it covers topics that are more mature than middle grades, and yet the protagonists don't have the independence or experience of YA novels. Hmm, my definition is confusing and possibly ill-informed, just like my own years in middle school.

I think I'm drawn to writing for this age group because it was such a horrendous time for me. 7th and 8th grade were a complete mess. I had no idea what was going on around me. Why were girls being mean to me? How was it physically possible to make my wavy hair feather back and why was it so important? When did boys get cute and why wouldn't they talk to me? Why did my parents work all the time and suddenly expect me to do so much around the house? I think I was also supposed to get some schoolwork done, but it wasn't homework that made me cry. Reading books got me through some emotionally trying times.

Odd as it seems, writing about these horrible years is fun for me. There's something about that absolute cluelessness that's fun to assign to someone else. Older teens have a better idea of their classmates: everybody has it rough, people have been known to change, nobody's perfect, there are two sides to many stories. My tween characters don't know any of these things. They think they're always right or they think they're always wrong. Unlike many middle grade characters, the world for them has often become "every man for himself."

More than any other time of my life, my middle school years were when I made the decisions that influenced my life the most. Considering how ignorant I felt about the world, that's really a major statement, and I think it's a true statement for many kids. Clueless, ignorant, and making the decisions that stick with you for life. But these were the years where I found friends I still have and discovered what interested me in life. In 7th grade, I decided to write my first novel. It was an older YA mystery, something that feels too sophisticated to me now. I wonder if my years writing tween books has ruined me for older YA forever. No ... I'm still mature enough to pull it off ... right? (I know, I'll ask my Spongebob Magic 8 Ball if I'm still mature!)

OK, maybe all these words are an effort to mask the fact that I still have the maturity level of a 14 year old. Maybe that's why I find tween books so much fun to read and write. Does anyone else find them fun? Or do you see tween books as working through a difficult time of life?

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


Kristina Springer said...

Hey Kate,
I've only tried one MG book and actually I think it may be more tween than MG. I'm not really sure. It stars 7th graders. Anyway, personally I found the high school years rougher than junior high. We got in way way way more trouble then. ;-) Everything was still kinda sunshine and rainbows in junior high.

DeenaML said...

Kate, your para abt your middle school years is SO MUCH LIKE MINE! My hair was changing from straight to curly -- and it was a disaster! And I cared so much how it looked but couldn't tame it! I really need to include some puffy hair in my next tween book. I DO love writing abt the middle school years, too! Kids think they're so old and mature, but are so not. :)

Lisa Schroeder said...

Middle school is so hard. I have an 8th grader, and I'm really hoping high school is better.

I moved in 8th grade, and I have lots of memories after I moved, but hardly any of middle school before. Isn't that weird? I made some great friends and had fun in middle school, although I was filled with angst about EVERYTHING.

I've written one book that I think is a tween book. I'm going to return to it one of these days...

Kate Fall said...

Oh neat, ladies, I'd love to read your tween stuff sometime. Deena's is really good!

I think my only rainbows and sunshine years were in college. I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead. I think I was too scared to make trouble in junior high. I got in more trouble in high school, but that's because I finally had friends and the courage to take risks.