Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Adult: Nuisance or Necessary?

So, some of you may have heard about this new category of books: New Adult. It's been the topic of several articles, like this one and this one, and caused quite the kerfuffle on twitter as people try to define this new category and what to do with it.

Let's break down this new category, shall we?

What is New Adult anyway?

Well, that's the million dollar question.

Many media outlets and even some publishers are trying to call New Adult a "steamier" version of YA. Some people are going so far as to say Harry Potter meets 50 Shades of Grey. As mentioned in the articles, Simon and Schuster even released an uncensored version of one of their "New Adult" books.

But many others are crying foul, saying that is totally not New Adult, what the hell is the deal?

So, let's ask a better question.

What can New Adult be?

Here's the thing. I, personally, don't believe New Adult should just be YA with sex. Because YA already has sex. Looking for Alaska, Forbidden, The DUFF, for some examples. Maybe it's not explicit sex, but it's not subtle in the least. It's been a long time since young adult authors shied away from sex (umm, hello Forever by Judy Blume? When I read it, my mom told me about when SHE read it as a teen). And sex isn't necessary to tell a story about college-aged people because not everyone has sex all the time at that age.

What do I think New Adult can be? I think this is a category that has so much potential, more than I would have imagined before I started college.

I still love YA with every fiber of my being. I still read it often. But, I'm not in high school anymore. And I'm also not a grown up.

I have a pretty good grasp on who I am and what I want from life. Not perfect or set in stone or anything, but I'm mostly past that stage of figuring out who I am. But I wouldn't call myself an adult, either. I still have way too many stuffed animals and can't fathom the idea of paying my own bills and I'm prone to buying anything that interests me, like the many, many Disney prints that now adorn my dorm wall.

On the other hand, I do have to start cleaning up my resume and making cover letters for internships and possible jobs in the next coming months. My winter break will consist largely of that task and deciding where to apply and starting the apartment hunt. I'm slowly phasing into being an adult-like-person. And I plan on taking full advantage of my remaining three and a half years of college to work my way towards adulthood.

And I think that's what New Adult should be and could be. Not exploring the supposed massive sex drive and drugs and drinking college students supposedly do, especially since that's not even a real thing. Of everyone I know who's a college student, drinking/drugs may have increased minimally and either they were having sex before coming to college anyway, or they still aren't having sex. None of these factors are necessary for college students or maturing. If they happen, they happen. The first parts of adulthood are about maturing and, you know, doing what has to be done to be considered an adult.

Why does there need to be a New Adult?

What's the point? Slight voice differences, different settings, older, more mature characters, can't that just be an upper YA?

Well, technically, yes. It could be. In some cases, that might be all the book is: an older teen in college. But as I mentioned, the big difference is what journey the character is on. YA is about figuring out who you are, experiencing a lot of firsts, maybe even figuring out what you want from life. "New adulthood" is a time to refine that, experience a couple of more firsts, nail down where you're going and with who. It's a time of independence and freedom and responsibility and learning how to balance it all.

But to be frank, it's also a terrifying time. Grocery shopping and other necessity shopping and trying not to spend all your money on books and things I find on Etsy, but how do I know how much I can spend when my needs change? And what should I even be looking for an apartment? What the hell is a cover letter anyway? And because many people in this "new adult" stage are still insecure and confused and many of us are now surrounded by people we haven't known our whole lives for the first time, we're not really going to talk about how we feel all the time. Because we can still have our fears belittled and rejected. Because maybe others aren't where we are. Because maybe we're just weird for feeling that way. And because maybe we aren't all that grown up, because aren't adults supposed to be confident and know what to do?

I'm not saying these are things that are true for every person in the strange time of "new adulthood," but they're true for me and I've found that my feelings and opinions usually aren't just mine, even if it feels that way. 

On the surface, college-aged years sound a lot like high school-aged years. More independence, new responsibilities, insecurity, fear. But the reasons behind them are so different and that difference is significant. That difference is why a nineteen year old can be deemed an adult when a sixteen year old is not. It's also why people see a nineteen year old and a sixteen year old in relationships and wonder how it can work. It's a relatively small age difference, especially compared to some larger age gaps between older couples, but those two people are in different places in their lives.

Many readers who are now the same age as new adult characters grew up with Harry Potter and Cam Jansen and the Magic Tree House. We turned to middle grade and young adult books to explore territories that made us uncomfortable or to know we weren't alone in how we were feeling and in what we were experiencing. I could sit in my room and feel insecure and crack open a YA book and find a girl in that book like me. I related to her and felt better. And I think New Adult books are a way for many in my generation to continue knowing there's a character, a book, a series we can turn to when we need to.

Then, Julie, what should we read to test this idea?

Well, actually, I can't tell you. As far as I know, I haven't read any New Adult books. I know Abbi Glines and Tammara Weber both write in that category, but beyond that? I'm not really familiar with it.

So, if you have any recommendations, I definitely invite them below. I do have one of Tammara's books on my Kindle (not Easy, the first in her other series?), but other than that, I'm not sure what there is besides maybe Gayle Forman's books (i think it can be debated: is it really YA or would NA be a better category?).

Let's discuss this, guys. What NA books will win over the non-believers and people who don't love NA yet? What books that are called YA might actually be NA? Or have you given up on NA books all ready?

And for a slightly different opinion on New Adult from someone else in the age group it's being aimed at, Nicole and Word for Teens did a most excellent post.



  1. I think there's a lot of potential for New Adult. It really relates to those who are not children anymore, but not quite adults. Just stumbling their way along. I really like the category and look forward to reading more New Adult books. It's also almost like cheating when I feel like a YA book and a Romance book at the same time - I just pick New Adult and I get both.

    Great discussion post.

  2. This is the first time I've heard of this! I understand where this is coming from, but I don't see how this will affect what I read.

  3. This. Even though i'm not the target audience for new adult, a bunch of books in the NA category are being pushed to me as well, under the cover of still being YA Like you said, new adult has A LOT of potential and if done right, could be freaking great. But the new adult I see now is sex and drugs. Some happen to be things that started as fanfiction but edited the names. But new adult seems to be the new cash cow that everyone wants to get in on because it doesn't (and from what I've read) have good character development/plot and I feel that some new adult authors are taking advantage of the fault in that genre.

  4. I love the concept of New Adult, but I don't like the way NA has been veering towards (YA with sex). I do not want to read NA so that I can read sex scenes. I want the NA target audience to flourish for exactly what you said. Nice discussion!

  5. I figure New Adult would deal with issues that include college, what happens after high school, dealing with adult issues like paying bills and the list goes on :-D

  6. YES YES YES: "YA is about figuring out who you are, experiencing a lot of firsts, maybe even figuring out what you want from life. "New adulthood" is a time to refine that, experience a couple of more firsts, nail down where you're going and with who. It's a time of independence and freedom and responsibility and learning how to balance it all."

    Exactly. One of our WHYA girls (Kristan) is a big proponent of New Adult, and even wrote a web series (now ebook) called Twenty-Somewhere, about 3 best friends tackling work, love, and life after college, because she felt it was such a vital, vibrant time in her life. This was way before New Adult was a "thing," but she's glad to see NA making some headway in the industry.

  7. (Whoops, hit enter too soon!)

    So yeah. NA is no nuisance, in our book. A necessity? You could say that. Because literature is supposed to hold up a mirror and show us ourselves. How can we not have stories that represent such a critical stage? And why wouldn't people want to read about that?

  8. I love New Adult books and i definately think they are necessary. The media keeps getting it wrong when they describe it, its not just YA with sex and sex in NA isnt actually that explicit. If you are looking for recommendations for NA books you should check out the NA book club on goodreads. Lots of people have suggested books that they love.

  9. LOVELY! Great article and great questions. Suggested book I have for NA is Ten Tiny Breaths by KA Tucker. It completely blew my mind!
    Cora Carmack writes new adult. When HarperCollins announced their deal with her it was the FIRST TIME a big pub had used the term NA in reference to the purchase of her book, Losing It. Cora wrote a fabulous blogpost about NA here:

    Tammara also wrote a really good post in response to the NYT article:

  10. If the biggest difference between YA and NA is the age span of its main characters, then NA makes perfect sense. A 16-year-old hero's journey will have a different context than a 20-year old's. The formula will be the same, but the backdrop will be different. How much more different? That remains to be seen. I will say this: by age 23, I was a high school teacher and at a very different place in my life than I was at age 16 or even 21. If there were two different books written about my life at those two different stages, the stories would be remarkably different.

  11. Terrific post! The whole "new adult" thing seems to be provoking a great deal of discussion these days. If it means that more books are written about people ages 18-30, I am all for it because I don't think that there are enough books that deal with that in-between period. The best books I have read that fall into the NA spectrum are Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo (only available in the US via Fishpond) and Come See About Me by C.K. Kelly Martin.

  12. See my biggest issues comes in: "YA is about figuring out who you are, experiencing a lot of firsts, maybe even figuring out what you want from life. "New adulthood" is a time to refine that, experience a couple of more firsts, nail down where you're going and with who. It's a time of independence and freedom and responsibility and learning how to balance it all." I feel like this is universal. My sister would be the target audience for NA and she hasn't nailed down who she is or how to balance it all. I know so, so many people who are in the same boat. I don't think NA needs to exist seperatly but I do think books for college students need to exist. But another question: how will NA be divided? I know some college students who are married and some who have kids. Will these books be considered adult since not many college students are married or have kids?
    Overall: I think we need more books about college age students. But no matter what you feel, you are an adult in college. Just like you feel like a kid in high school, when you're a teenager.

  13. So here's the thing - I run a new adult blog - I'll go ahead and plug here, why not: at New Adult Addiction It's a pretty fun blog to run because it gets a lot of traffic and it's got a nice design that Parajunkee did for me. But beyond that, it gets traffic because I post about new adult books - and the reason you're even writing this post today is because you've noticed that new adult books have taken off. Dare I say EXPLODED. Which is why I write them BTW - little disclosure, I'm a NA author too.

    I have a lot of reasons for adopting the NA category as both a writer and a blogger:

    One, because it makes sense to me – I enjoy this age group but most of the time I abhor reading about kids in high school.

    Two, because this new genre/category is EXPLODING.

    And three is because it's EXPLODING. :) It only makes sense to write what people want.

    So really - what bloggers or publishers or authors who do NOT want a NA category think about the NA category, is irrelevant.

    Because READERS like the NA category - it steers them towards books they enjoy. And that’s enough. There is really nothing more to say. The reader wins.

    As far as what NA is - it's books about people ages 17-26 or so. You know, young people spanning the ages between teen and adult. The age when you learn most of your life lessons (if you’re smart and lucky), the age when everything you do counts just a little bit more than it did a few years ago.

    This age is a BFD. And in new adult literature we don’t have to say BFD, we can say big fucking deal like the grownups and not get yelled at for it by parents and librarians. And the new adult books I’ve read, which is quite a few, are not something I’d steer my teenager towards, so this category helps parents as well.

    I mean, you can ask yourself why have different categories of romance or fantasy or science fiction? Why do we need a paranormal romance category? Or a dark fantasy category? Or a military SF category?

    It’s the same reason we need a new adult category – TO HELP READERS FIND BOOKS.

    Julie~ at New Adult Addiction

  14. Sometimes I think the definitions of YA and NA should be flipped - because New Adults aren't NEW. It's the teenagers who are, lol. -Amanda



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