New Adult redux

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.

If you would like to read some of the “New Adult” lit that’s available now, there are some recommendations here and here.

13 responses to “New Adult redux”

  1. Shari Avatar

    I was just discussing this with my sister yesterday, and we’re in complete agreement with you.

    One novel that I thought did a great job of covering that age/timeframe is Jennifer Close’s GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES. It’s not quite the same as what you mention – it covers a time span of about ten years, from right after college graduation through early thirties – but she dedicates a lot of time to the early and mid twenties. Such a fun perspective to read about, and one so many people can relate to in some way.

  2. Sherrie Petersen Avatar

    I think there are actually quite a few books out there that fit this category, they’ve just never been categorized that way. A lot of “coming of age” stories would fit under this umbrella. Adult fiction is just so generalized. I think marketers could go back and repackage a lot of book that they already have that could be called New Adult.

  3. Kristan Avatar

    I’ll have to check that book out, thanks! I think I saw Allison Winn Scotch talking about it too, a while back…

    Yes and no. There have always been books about children and teens too, but expanding that into a “true” genre is a significant step for that kind of literature. So while I absolutely agree that reclaiming/remarketing older New Adult books would be a good and important step, it wouldn’t address the idea of exploring the CONTEMPORARY experience of this age group.

  4. Short Poems Avatar

    THIS is awesome post! I so love your page..

  5. Sonje Avatar

    To me, it seems like YA is commercial fiction with a teenage protagonist that limits its content to that appropriate for a teenager to read. New Adult is similar. It’s commercial fiction with a twenty-something as the protagonist (content is now as wide open as commercial fiction will allow). I really think the main distinction we’re making here is between commercial fiction and “literature.” I think there are plenty of New Adult books on the shelves and being written, but it is true that they are interspersed with bunches of books about much older protagonists and/or a “literary” writing style. Perhaps it would be useful to put the New Adult books altogether. I could say that about any constraints on style and type of protagonist though.

  6. Kristan Avatar


    To be clear, I think both New Adult and Young Adult fiction have room for literary voices. IMO, the New Adult genre would not have to be written entirely for a mainstream audience or in a “commercial” style.

    BUT. I AM talking about commercializing (i.e., marketing) New Adult as its own genre, which would mean giving it its own label and grouping it accordingly. You’re right, that could be done for almost any books of a certain criteria — IF there is a demand for it. (For example, Paranormal Romance or Space Opera.) What I’m suggesting is, there IS a demand for New Adult fiction — I see it in blogs, discussion boards, Twitter, etc. — but that demand is not yet being met.

    I don’t think I’d say there’s “plenty” of New Adult fiction already on shelves or being written… There’s some, certainly. But most books about people in their twenties tend to feature protagonists in the latter half of the spectrum (25+). New Adult is focused more on the 18-25 range, and the unique issues they face. Some older YA will bleed into that, and some younger adult fiction (like Chick Lit) might overlap too, but I don’t think those are significant numbers.

  7. Julia Avatar

    If you think about it, New Adult has actually been around for quite some time. All of Jane Austen’s protagonists were in their late teens and early twenties, as were the Brontes’ protagonists. And they are clearly dealing with universal issues such as family, love, and their place in society.

    And mostly, they are books where nothing happens yet everything changes. The very definition of transition.

  8. Kristan Avatar

    You know, I’d have to do more research, but I’m not sure that the late teens and early twenties of the past would be considered the same developmental period as it is nowadays. (For that matter, within the 21st century I’m not sure that the late teens and early twenties in other parts of the world are the same developmental period as they are in America or Europe.)

    “where nothing happens yet everything changes”

    Lol I love that definition of transition.

  9. Joelle Wilson Avatar

    Interesting points that you’ve brought up with your post. It would be great to see New Adult as its own genre.

  10. Jon Avatar

    Great post. You’re a real trailblazer. I really like this sentence: “To show the common humanity between people, no matter how different or similar they may seem.” Sounds like a pretty good motto for any genre!

  11. Mary Avatar

    I’m totally late to this party, but I just had to say that I agree with you completely. I do think there is more demand for books focused on contemporary concerns of the 18-25 year old than people realize, and it is often difficult to find books that meet that need.

    Most of the books with young protagonists that I’ve read outside of the YA genre just aren’t really focused on the things I remember being focused on at that period of my life. And it wasn’t all college — a very large chunk of that time period, I was moving across the country to be with my boyfriend, struggling with what I wanted to do with my life, and feeling like I was never going to be able to get a job that wasn’t temporary. Everyone else I know was also struggling with love (or lack thereof), life goals, and money/employment. Not in exactly the same way, but the concern was there.

    The sad thing is, I think the lack of “New Adult” literature is a lot of the reason why I read romance novels. :) The female protagonists, at least, tend to be in their 20s, and are often in a very similar “what the hell do I do with my life” place that I was in. Even now, when I’ve figured out what I want to do with my life but am still trying to figure out how to do it, it’s often very similar. And for me and probably a great number of other people, part of the answer to both of those questions is wrapped up in a relationship/marriage. Romance novels obviously focus on the relationship aspect almost to the exclusion of everything else, but I find I am often sort of dissatisfied by books that write about that age and don’t focus on it at all. Even people who aren’t dating someone or married (even if they don’t want to be) are still often thinking about it more in their 20s, and in a different way from when they were in their teens.

  12. Kristan Avatar

    Well said.

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