Defining New Adult fiction

Post 85

Today, I wanted to share a conversation I had with one of my friends recently. She is not an habitual reader, only reading on holidays by the pool. We were on a train going to the coast, which is a two-hour train ride. She was doing a crossword, and I was reading.

She: “Hey, what are you reading?”

Me: (holding up the cover of my book)

She: “Oh, I don’t know that one. What genre is it?”

Me: “It’s a New Adult fantasy series.”

She: “New Adult, what is that?”

Me: “It’s like Young Adult, but with slightly older protagonists.”

She: “Wait, what?”

At this point, I gave up trying to continue reading and put my book down.

Me: “You know, Young Adult. It can be linked to several genres, and they are books meant for teenagers between 15 and 20 years old. Like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, …”

She: “Oh right, so teenagers saving a post-apocalyptic world while involved in a love triangle?”

Me: (rolling my eyes at her)

She: “What? It’s true! All of the YA I’ve read has been like that. But anyway, what is New Adult then?”

Me: “Books that are written for people after high school, say 18 to 30 years old. They deal with the firsts: first time away from home at university, first job, first car, first serious relationship, up to first child. And New Adult can also be linked to several genres, so you can have romance, fantasy, thriller, science fiction, …”

She: “Oh, cool. So it’s like Young Adult but a little more believable?”

Me: “How so, more believable?”

She: “Well, it’s not teenagers saving the world, but people our age saving the world, right?”

Me: “Again, not all YA nor all NA is about saving the world. But yes, in a sense, that is what it is. Only, it only feels more believable because we are the same age. NA feels believable to us, just as YA feels believable to teenagers. That’s because it’s not really a genre like non-fiction, fantasy and thriller are, but it’s more a term to point to the intended audience. Like children’s books and adult fiction.”

She seemed to understand and went back to her crossword. Either that, or she got tired of the conversation. YA and NA are very hard genres to explain. As I told my friend as well, it’s not really a genre, more like a way to indicate the intended audience. So I decided to do a little research and be more prepared for the next time someone asked me this question. If you want a short summary of what New Adult fiction is, check out Goodreads’ explanation, and for some examples, check out the list of popular New Adult books.

The term was first used in 2009 by publisher St. Martin’s Press when they  were looking for YA books that could be marketed to an older audience. Recurrent themes are leaving home, a developing sexuality, higher education and career choices. In the beginning, the category was criticised and seen as nothing more than a marketing scheme, but others saw the necessity of the new category. Authors and readers alike have been flocking to NA fiction in recent years. It is rapidly developing and becoming more and more popular, as it caters to an age group that was a little lost between YA and full-on adult fiction.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. The category is still receiving criticism, mostly by people saying the readership doesn’t exist. There is children’s literature for small children and young teenagers. When they come at the end of puberty, they can transition into YA fiction which focuses on “the specific challenges of youth.” And after that, they move into adult fiction. Expecting them to need some kind of category in between is thought to be condescending (source).

New Adult is a label that is condescending to readers and authors alike. It implies that the books act as training wheels between Young Adult and Adult. -Lauren Sarner

I don’t agree with this. Because I think you can then say the same thing for YA. Isn’t it condescending to teenagers as well that they need some kind of special category, when they can also make the change from children’s fiction to adult fiction? Many times, I have felt silly reading about teenagers saving the world, or yet another story about a stunning 16-year-old who doesn’t know how beautiful she is until some boy tells her, or teenagers professing their undying love at 17. When I was 16, 17 myself, these stories seemed less crazy, but now I can get easily frustrated with similar storylines. And switching to adult literature, reading about 30-year-olds who are divorcing (to really use all the clichés), that doesn’t interest me either. So I place myself firmly in the NA fiction genre.

Another difficulty that many have with the NA category is that they equal it to romance and erotica novels. They say NA fiction didn’t really gain traction until the publication of 50 Shades of Grey and that these kind of books are what make up the category. But just as not all YA novels are set in a post-apocalyptic world and see teenagers saving the world, not all NA novels are of the romance/erotica persuasion. I do understand and acknowledge that the category grew in most part thanks to romance novels, but narrowing this genre-encompassing category down to just that is short-sighted and disrespectful to all NA writers from other genres.

A New Adult book is basically a Young Adult book with sex and cursing thrown in.-LaurenSarner

NA Alley is a network for writers and readers of NA fiction and are creating a community around this category. In the about-section on their website, they talk about what NA fiction is. It’s an explanation and way of looking at the category that I completely agree with. I especially find their raison d’être very to-the-point:

In life, we can’t skip those years between being a teenager and being a full-grown adult, and in fiction, we shouldn’t skip these years either.  -NA Alley

So, what do you think? Do you agree with my views on New Adult fiction? Or are you more critical of this categorical genre? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading,

Loes M.

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