Reflection 2 -Critiquing a Middle-Grade Novel

*There are SPOILERS for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, New World: Rising, and Delirium in this post!*

While writing my review for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I realized that critiquing a book that is meant for children rather than for a mature audience was actually quite challenging. I found this ironic, because even though it is a ‘simpler’ book, I had more trouble discussing it than I did for my more ‘advanced’ reads. The root of the difficulty was that I realized I could not compare the quality of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the quality of any of the other books I’ve reviewed, because it just wouldn’t be fair. Of course New World: Rising has more detailed, unique characters than Dahl’s novel – in order for the former to be a successful young adult novel, Phoenix and Triven had to be much more complicated than the characters of Charlie Bucket or Willy Wonka. In middle-grade it is less about character development and more about having each character fill a necessary role in the story in order to send the author’s intended message. Further, the bad guys are just bad and that’s that. To compare, in young adult novels, the readers typically find out the reasons behind why the bad guys are acting the way that they are – the author actually gives them a motive.

The differences between MG and YA should not be overlooked. What an eight-year-old wants to (and should) read is very different from what an eighteen-year-old wants to (and should) read. The way a book concludes is an easy way to identify a middle-grade novel from a young adult novel, for “MG novels end on a hopeful note, while YA novels could have less optimistic endings . . . you could say that that’s youth vs. experience coming into play” (Lamba 9). I can attest to the truth of this statement, for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to a clean, easy happily ever after, with Charlie agreeing to inherit Wonka’s chocolate factory and saying, “We’re going to the most wonderful place in the world!” (Dahl 155). Meanwhile, Lauren Oliver’s Delirium (which I am reviewing this coming Thursday) ends with a cliffhanger *SPOILER ALERT* of the possible capture and/or death of a main character. In these cases, the simplistic ending was perfect for the middle-grade book and the complicated ending was right for the young adult book. A reader cannot say that one ending is better than the other just because one is more complicated.

Lamba also explains the different mindsets of the characters in each genre. In MG the “focus [is] on friends, family and the character’s immediate world and relationship to it; characters react to what happens to them, with minimal self-reflection” (4). While in YA, the “heroes discover how they fit in the world beyond their friends and family; they spend more time reflecting on what happens and analyzing the meaning of things” (Lamba 5). Charlie doesn’t give Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, or any of the other kids a second thought after they make their mistakes and have to leave the group, for he is busy continuing his own tour with Mr. Wonka. In contrast, New World: Rising’s Phoenix reflects on her parents’ deaths again and again and that is what turns her into a survivor.

The final major difference is the restrictions placed upon the respective age categories. MG must not “contain profanity, graphic violence or sexuality,” while in YA this is all allowable, except for eroticism (Lamba 4). MG books are more heavily criticized for their content because it up to the parents to buy the novel for their child, and so it must pass the parents’ ‘is this appropriate?’ quiz before the child can go anywhere near it. Some middle-grade novels are banned from school libraries due to restrictions like this. While young adult books can also be banned, the audience is old enough that they can read books without asking their parents’ permission. Adolescents can decide for themselves what they want to read, regardless of the level of appropriateness.

If I had measured Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the same scale that I have been measuring the YA books, I could not have given it the 10 out of 10 I believe it deserves. Due to its characters being much less developed and the plot and the conflict being so simplistic, I may have been forced to take points off of my rating. However, because it exists in a different age category from the rest of the novels, I can rate it without comparing it to anything else. This conclusion that I could think of Dahl’s novel in a completely separate category took a long time for me to come to terms with, because I do want my ratings to be fair. Eventually I realized that it would only be fair to give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the rating it deserves within the limitations of its age category, and that rating is a very deserving ten.






Works Cited

Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Puffin Books, 1964.

Lamba, Marie, Guest Column. “The Key Differences Between Middle Grade vs Young Adult.” The Writer’s Digest, Accessed 18 Dec. 2016.


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