Today we’re talking about New Adult books.
What is New Adult, you may ask? Well, mysterious voice from the abyss, let me tell you. New Adult (NA), as defined by the very-trustworthy Wikipedia, is defined as: a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18–30 age bracket. It tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices.
So basically, a lot like YA but just….older.
Sad to say, NA never really took off. Instead, it eventually fizzled out to another branch of romance focusing almost exclusively on freshman college girls exploring their sexual adventures at campus. Um, not exactly what I was hoping for. But hey, if that’s your bag, go crazy. But why is that all there is? Can you imagine? That’s like if every single YA book was about some sophemore or freshman learning to cope with falling in love and breaking up with their first boyfriend and struggling to pass all their classes. And that’s it.
Oh my gosh. No. Please no.
Honestly, like I said, can you imagine?
So why was NA delegated to such a fate? Why wasn’t it given a chance to really stretch it’s wings and blossom into an amazing new niche for those who might feel a little older for 16-year old characters, but don’t really care for straight up Adult books either? It’s almost like people assume that once you hit the age of 18 you can simply be lumped in with the well-established crowd where everyone has a longtime career and house with the loving partner and 2.5 children. WHAT?? Where is all the in-between stuff? WHAT IS GOING ON!?!?!
I often hear that YA is defined by the fact its characters are “going through firsts”. The first time falling in love. First time taking on responsibilities. First time dealing with a sense of self. So what is NA defined by? First time having lots of sex? Please. How about-first time having you support yourself? First time being away from family/friends? First time being treated like a proper adult? First time dealing with marriage/babies?
Now, aside from the marriage/baby aspect, is it really so drastically different from YA? No, it isn’t. It has all of these outlets to feed into, aspects that can be explored, and yet…back to sex it all winds down to. And it’s infuriating. Not only that, New Adult opens the door a little wider to deal with some mature themes as well. Rape. Suicide. Drugs. Topics that have a harder pass in being included in YA fiction.
Of course, that’s not to say YA doesn’t or shouldn’t deal with these kinds of heavier subjects. It would be ridiculous of me to say that they don’t. But traditionally (in publishing terms anyway) speaking, there’s a limit in YA fiction as to just how in-depth authors are allowed to go. NA is the perfect bridge for younger readers looking for fiction allowed to go a bit further while still keeping in tune with a more familiar, younger voice and characters. But most importantly (I think anyway), is that it shows readers that these types of problems and obstacles are not just a “young people” thing. They happen to people who are “old enough to know better”, and who might not have the kind of same support as someone who lives with their parents.
Now, I realize I’m talking a lot about modern, contemporary situations. Which is a whole ‘nother baskets of kittens. But the reason I’m doing so is that literally EVERY NA I’VE EVER HEARD OF IS CONTEMPORARY. What is THAT even about???
Remember how I mentioned the whole ‘YA being only about finding a boyfriend and struggling to get good grades’? And how ludicrous that all sounds? Well, it wasn’t that long ago (you darn kids) where that WAS what people thought YA was. But of course, go to any book blogger and they’ll throw about 597 books in your face that prove otherwise. YA books are about anything and everything. Don’t believe me? Of course you do, but here’s a quick list because everyone loves lists.
Need I go on? Nah. You get the idea. Do you want to know what the list for NA looks like? Brace yourself.
- college freshman girls having lots of sex
Seriously, am I the only one seeing the discrepancy here? Is it like passed the age of 18 I was supposed to take off my Imagination Hat and live a life of strict contemporary? Well….maybe, since I just used the phrase “Imagination Hat”, but work with me people, I’m old. So what is the deal? Why are publishers and readers so resistant to the idea of allowing NA to grow into something more?
Personally, one phenomenon I see quite often is that every time NA tries to break out of its college-campus mold, the book is wrongfully marketed as YA. Don’t believe me? Here are some titles that I feel strongly toe the line between YA and NA, and instead of being allowed to flourish and break down boundaries for NA, they are marketed purely as YA instead.
- A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
- Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
- Deadly Sweet by Lola Dodge
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen
- Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
These books all have a lot to offer the NA audience, so why aren’t they being pushed more as actual NA titles? The truth of the matter is, NA will never be able to grow outside it’s tiny, one-dimensional stereotype if every unique book that fits its perimeters are instantly whisked off as YA.
Don’t get me wrong guys, this is NOT a dig at YA. I love YA, it’s about 90% of what I read (even as an old fogey such as myself) and I doubt I’ll ever stop reading it. Truth be told, I’m coming at this whole discussion almost entirely from an author standpoint. I love writing about characters in the 18-24 age bracket, but then I also love throwing them into fantasy worlds of royalty and magic and battling evil. I like to see them struggle with what it means to take control, be a real leader, fight for the people they love. And yes, I love a good royal wedding too.
Considering the age of my characters and topics such as marriage and pregnancy, one would argue I write Adult fiction. But as I know the voice, the style, the tropes and emotion of YA, I feel more inclined toward that sub-genre instead. So where does one such as myself truly fit? That’s when I started researching NA, as it sounded quite promising. Until I realized almost all its books were contemporaries and heavy on the sex. Definitely not what I write.
So what do I do? Age my characters down and take away a few of their more mature arcs so it all properly fits within YA? Age them up and hope I hit the beats of a proper Adult fantasy? Say screw it all, and call it a NA fantasy romance, hoping I don’t scare readers away?
Who knows. But I do know I’m not the only author or reader out there struggling with this lack of NA literature. But I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. Though some have already declared it “dead”, I think there’s still some life left in it yet. We just have to do our part in helping it grow. Because come on. We’re not all 16 and can stay up past 1 AM anymore. But we’re not all middle-aged with a mortgage either.
Have you ever heard of or read any NA books? Do you think it’s a necessary sub-genre or are we fine with just YA and Adult? Should I give up on NA and stop trying to make fetch happen?