Paula Weiman is a literary agent with Ash Literary.
In middle grade contemporary, I’m looking for literary stories that touch on grief and/or queer identity and don’t rely heavily on a school setting. I want books that are lush with metaphor and lyricism in simple, cutting prose. If you have Bridge to Terabithia for Gen Alpha, I want to see it. Some recent favorites include King and the Dragonflies, The Best Liars in Riverview, The Probability of Everything, and The Hunt for the Nightingale.
I also want clever middle grade adventures that operate on multiple levels at once with narrators so voicey they direct the plot; think of the spectrum between Lemony Snicket and Catherynne M. Valente.
I am open to a narrow range of historical middle grade if and only if it tackles children’s labor rights. It can be realistic or fantastical as long as the labor struggle is based in historical fact – both Newsies and Sweep do this beautifully. I would love to see something that touches on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
In YA suspense, I want to see cerebral plots with beautiful prose, following teenagers who tackle systemic injustice and corrupt power systems. I’m looking for books like Sadie, A Long Stretch of Bad Days, Where There’s Smoke, and The Wilderness of Girls.
For YA thrillers I want heists, either contemporary or historical. Assemble a hypercompetent crack team who are each a mess outside of their area of expertise; even better if they’re fighting injustice from behind the scenes. Recent favorites are Thieves Gambit and Medici Heist.
For YA contemporary, I want to see joyful teen rom-coms about girls and queer protagonists with a growth arc that connects to a larger social or cultural topic. My favorite tropes are fake dating and rivals-to-lovers where one character is way more into the rivalry than the other. I’d love something in the vein of Felix Ever After, TJ Powar Has Something to Prove, This May End Badly, or Today Tonight Tomorrow.
In YA fantasy, I look for rich atmosphere and a propulsive plot, whether the stories are high fantasy or contemporary with a dash of magic. I’m excited to see second-world settings that aren’t based on medieval Europe with religions that aren’t inspired by Christianity. I gravitate toward intuitive magic systems that don’t require learning much vocabulary. I’m fascinated by stories that show familiar tropes from a new perspective, like the way So Let Them Burn looks at what life is like for the chosen one years after their prophesied epic battle. I want to see books like A Magic Steeped in Poison, Skin of the Sea, The Isles of the Gods, Our Crooked Hearts, Little Thieves, A Deadly Education, Curious Tides, and Wink, Poppy, Midnight.
Across these genres and age categories, I welcome stories about marginalized characters and stories written by marginalized authors. I especially invite Jewish stories.