First, a big thanks to Erin, who sent me the link that served as the seed for this post.
Second, here’s my take on what “New Adult” even means.
Third, here we go.
The Young Adult Review Network asks: “Where are all the young adults?”
When is the last time you read a YA book with a 25-year-old protagonist?
An easy solution to this dilemma, you may say, is to walk towards the adult section of any library or bookstore. But why should I? The YA writing style is noticeably different than that of an adult novel. I do not know exactly what causes them to diverge – though I am in a constant quest for an answer – but there seems to be a sort of whimsical, hopeful, non-nostalgic element to YA. I am still a “young” adult. I do not want to reflect, I want to react.
In other words: There are some readers who want an “in between” genre. Something after YA but before adult fiction. Something to bridge the gap between John Green and Jonathan Franzen.
(Actually, that was a big part of my inspiration in writing Twenty-Somewhere. To explore the stage of life that follows Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but precedes Sex and the City.)
Agent Sarah LaPolla calls it “Putting the A in YA”:
[This brings] me to “New Adult,” a sub-genre of fiction trying semi-hard to exist in the post-YA, pre-adult marketplace for those between the ages of 18 and 25. I am all for this. The college experience, figuring out grad school, jobs, not living off your parents, etc. are hard to deal with and they are certainly not “adult” concerns. They deserve their own literature. So why hasn’t it caught on yet?
Good question. LaPolla offers a couple theories on why New Adult is not a marketable genre right now, and why it won’t be for “at least another ten years.” Her first reason: time. There simply hasn’t been enough time for this to catch on. Heck, YA literature is still in its growth spurt.
I totally agree with that. It’s her second reason that I take issue with.
With New Adult, there is no universal experience. Within the genre, there are too many niche markets to consider, which makes it that much harder to place. Not everyone goes to college or makes the same choices when entering adulthood. Even within the group who goes to college, the experiences differ in ways that are much more polarizing than going to different high schools. No matter what kind of high school you went to, we were all forced to take the same general courses or participate in the same extracurricular activities.
Er, I find that to be a bit contradictory. Because the term “universal experience” comes from the idea that in spite of the many different paths we can take, there are certain core things we all have to deal with and go through. So the concept, as I understand it, depends on those different paths. Otherwise everything in life would be universal, right?
In YA lit, some teenagers come from wealth while others are in gangs. Some do drugs while others attend church. Some fight vampires while others fall in love with zombies. But regardless of their circumstances, they all grapple with the same kinds of things. Following or challenging authority, acting on or refusing romantic and sexual desires, discovering their own goals independent from parents or teachers.
And how is that any different from the universal experiences we could be exploring in New Adult lit?
Some twenty-somethings go to college while others go to war. Some stay virgins while others get married and have children. Some work two jobs while others live off their parents. But regardless of their circumstances, they all grapple with the same kinds of things. Having to make, find or redefine “home,” learning how to balance their personal and professional lives, fulfilling or rejecting the expectation to become a “productive member of society” (whatever that means).
In my opinion, there are a whole set of universal experiences and emotions at any developmental stage, and the point of literature is to explore and share the many interations of that. To show the common humanity between people, no matter how different or similar they may seem.
So again, LaPolla is probably right that it’s going to be a while before New Adult lit gets its own shelf at your local bookstore. But I think that it should get that shelf, someday. Because the twenties are a unique life-stage in modern society, and there are people who want to read and write about it. I’m one of them.