The Tween Novel For Girls: 21st Century Domestic Fiction

What exactly is the tween novel for girls? Well, it’s mostly just a marketing term. The term tween communicates to some marketing departments in publishing houses that a book will likely have commercial appeal, explore the middle school experience or upper elementary school concerns of children ages ten through thirteen, and focus on peer relationships. A tween novel is really just a sub-category of middle grade fiction.

Middle grade fiction is a confusing name. I think the intention is that it is fiction geared toward children in the middle grades of their schooling, which would be grades three through eighth, approximately. But I think it gets confused with middle school. Is it about children who are in middle school? Maybe sometimes (when it’s “tween” fiction), but not always. And do middle schoolers read middle grade fiction? Sometimes, but often middle school students have moved into reading young adult fiction.

Another hallmark of tween fiction for girls is that it revolves around core emotional needs of a girl versus a high stakes plot. This doesn’t mean it’s devoid of action. It’s just that the action often involves everyday battles (i.e. how to get invited to that slumber party). One could argue that these books are really the 21st century version of the 19th century domestic novel, mirroring the everyday experiences of girls ages 11 through 13. This is not to say that they are also devoid of tension. They are not. But the tension is mostly emotional and centered around the security of key friendships. Some of these books in this category don’t use the hero’s journey as their structure. Instead, the books can be more episodic, such as Lauren Myracle’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, which are chronicle books or year-in-the-life books. This would also be true of epistolary novels, such as Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, which straddles the YA/tween categories, or graphic/diary series like Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell.

It could be argued that Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda are domestic fiction for boys. Based on those sales, I think there will be a lot more books like this to come. And in my book, that’s a good thing. The late great poet and novelist Lucinda Clifton said that children need books that provide both windows and mirrors. There is no doubt that domestic fiction provides those mirrors.

 

 

Hillary Homzie‘s second tween novel for girls,The Hot List, was published last year. She has three boys so she must become a spy to write about tween girls and remember her own experiences, which is easy since Hillary claims that she’s still thirteen.

4 Responses to The Tween Novel For Girls: 21st Century Domestic Fiction

  1. My elementary students just eat those series up (Dork Diaries, Eleven, etc., Wimpy Kids, Big Nate, Origami Yoda’s . . . I hope there will be more of those types coming. They are so accessible to all levels of readers.

  2. Hi Jill,
    Here’s a primer on 19th century domestic fiction http://www.enotes.com/domestic-fiction-reference/domestic-fiction. Hope it helps. Note that 19th century domestic fiction was primarily about white, upper middle class women and girls. Today that has changed, although probably not enough.
    Hillary
    http://www.hillaryhomzie.com

    Jill Reply:

    @Hillary Homzie,

    Thanks for the link. That’s so kind of you! I’m going to check it out now.

  3. Interesting post! I wonder sometimes about that “Middle Grade fiction” term for the same reasons you state above. It seems like adult fiction and YA have those niches that make sense and great depth. But within middle grade itself, there are so many variables. I’ve heard of the term “tween” before. I’ve never heard of “domestic fiction”. I think I need a little glossary list of all the categories and subcategories :)