Genre battle! The Clackity vs Clown in a Cornfield 2

940 788 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

Hey, genre fans! Welcome to a new series on the blog: kidlit genre battle! The two questions that crop up most often in the emails and enquiries I receive are:

  1. is my book middle grade or YA?
  2. what genre is my book?

I also work with a lot of authors who find it hard to find comp titles because they’re not really sure where their own manuscript sits, so how can they possibly find books that are similar? Recently I even had an email from a school librarian who was trying to separate all the library’s novels into middle grade and YA but had no idea how to tell which was which. Yesterday I heard from an author who had written a manuscript but couldn’t categorise it: was it urban fantasy? Mystery science fiction? Superhero fantasy with mystery elements? He was totally lost.

Telling the difference between middle grade and young adult

And I don’t blame him. These are tricky distinctions but they get easier the more you read and immerse yourself in the market – I promise! Hence this new series. In each post I’ll choose two books from the same genre or subgenre but one will be middle grade (so targeting readers around 8-12 years old) and one will be young adult (so around 13+). I won’t tell you which is which straight away and I won’t tell you the genre: you can look at the book covers and read the blurbs and make your own guesses based on what you know about publishing conventions, reader expectations and genre tropes.

How do genre novels vary across audiences?

Then I’ll reveal each book’s audience and genre and discuss the differences and similarities between the two (without spoilers!). How has the middle grade author approached genre conventions? Does the YA novel sound more mature or heavy? How have publishers appealed to their target audiences?

And what clues can you find in each book that tell you the genre and subgenre? Do you spot common tropes or characteristics between the two?

I’ll also include notes on how you can decide whether these books would work as comp titles for your own manuscript.

I’m calling this a battle but there’s no competition between the two books! One will probably appeal to you more than the other depending on whether you mostly read and write middle grade or YA but you might decide to check them both out if you’re a fan of the genre! I loved them both.

Let battle commence (Spoiler free!)

The more you read and study the market, the easier this will be. So, shall we start? Here are two novels in the same genre: The Clackity and Clown in a Cornfield 2: Friendo Lives. Everything I say here is equally applicable to the first book in the Clown in a Cornfield series but I’m focusing on the sequel here because obviously it’s more recent.

Just from reading the blurbs from their publishers, can you work out which book is middle grade and which is YA, and what genre (and subgenre) they are? Scroll down for the answers!

The Clackity by Lora Senf

Date published: June 2022

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Synopsis:

Evie Von Rathe lives in Blight Harbor—the seventh-most haunted town in America—with her Aunt Desdemona, the local paranormal expert. Des doesn’t have many rules except one: Stay out of the abandoned slaughterhouse at the edge of town. But when her aunt disappears into the building, Evie goes searching for her.

There she meets The Clackity, a creature who lives in the shadows and seams of the slaughterhouse. The Clackity makes a deal with Evie to help get Des back in exchange for the ghost of John Jeffrey Pope, a serial killer who stalked Blight Harbor a hundred years earlier. Evie reluctantly embarks on a journey into a strange otherworld filled with hungry witches, penny-eyed ghosts, and a memory-thief, all while being pursued by a dead man whose only goal is to add Evie to his collection of lost souls. Will she ever find Des, or is The Clackity planning something far more sinister?

Clown in a Cornfield 2: Friendo Lives by Adam Cesare

Date published: April 2022

Publisher: HarperTeen

Synopsis:

After barely making it out of the Kettle Springs cornfields alive, Quinn’s first year away at college should be safe and easy. All she wants is to be normal again.

But instead, Quinn finds that her past won’t leave her alone when she becomes the focus of online conspiracy theories that claim the Kettle Springs Massacre never happened. It’s a deranged but relentless fantasy, and there’s nothing Quinn can do to get people to hear the truth—not even on her own campus or in her own dorm room.

So when a murderous clown attacks Quinn at a frat party while another goes after her father in Kettle Springs at the same time, Quinn realizes that the facts alone are never going to save her. Her only option is to go back into the cornfields, back where the nightmare began, to set the record straight the only way she knows how. Because when the truth gets lost in the lies, that’s when people start to die.

Drumroll, please! Middle grade or YA?

The Clackity: Middle grade

Clown in a Cornfield 2: YA

The genre and subgenre?

The Clackity: Supernatural or paranormal horror (hints include ‘haunted’, ‘paranormal’, ‘witches’, ‘ghosts’, ‘lost souls’)

Clown in a Cornfield 2: Slasher horror (hints includemurderous’, ‘attacks’, ‘people start to die’)

Post-battle debrief: how have the authors approached genre conventions and tropes?

Okay, I’ve cheated a little bit today! Both books are horror but they’re not the same subgenre and that’s partly down to the difference in audience: slasher horror is almost never aimed at a middle grade audience for the simple reason that it’s usually too violent and gory. Middle grade horror is predominantly supernatural which also means it’s easier for young readers to detach from the scary story once they finish the last page and tell themselves it’s just a fantasy, whereas a tale about an axe murderer or babysitter killer might feel too realistic to brush off as something that could never really happen.

That’s clue number one that Clown in a Cornfield 2 is the YA title here. You might also have noticed that the protagonist, Quinn, is in college so we know she’s around 18 which puts her firmly in young adult territory. And did you spot the publisher? HarperTeen is a YA imprint of HarperCollins.

You can see from the blurbs that both books make use of really powerful, unnerving settings: in The Clackity, the story starts in an abandoned slaughterhouse (does it get any creepier?) before exploring a spooky other world filled with uncanny houses and dark memories. In Clown in a Cornfield 2, the action takes place in a cornfield – a horror movie regular. Both books’ settings are remote and isolated and have previously played host to death and violence so there’s a sense that they’re ‘haunted’ by past tragedy, even though Clown in a Cornfield 2 is realistic horror and doesn’t feature actual ghosts.

I’ve read both of these books and they’re fantastic. The Clackity feels really original and is loaded with atmosphere, while Clown in a Cornfield 1 and 2 truly had me gripped from start to finish. The characterisation and plotting are super strong and I will be at the front of the queue if Cesare puts out a third installment.

Looking for comp titles or genre research?

Read these books if your own manuscript features any or all of these elements:

The Clackity
  • dark atmosphere and eerie undercurrent from the start
  • fast pace
  • elements of puzzle solving
  • strong setting and world building
  • mysterious disappearances
  • ghosts or witches
  • family theme

Similar titles: This Appearing House by Ally Malinenko | Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden | The Haunting of Aveline Jones series by Phil Hickes | Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon

Clown in a Cornfield 2
  • realistic murders
  • urban legends
  • heavy friendship theme
  • last girl standing
  • multiple POVs
  • strong YA voice
  • several murders
  • LGBTQ+ romance
  • mob mentality
  • small town setting

Similar titles: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy | The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky | There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins


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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes