Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The New Adult Confusion: What’s the True Deal with This Genre?

A few years ago I heard of a new genre created called New Adult. From what I understand, New Adult has the type of Young Adult vibe to it, but the main protagonist(s) are over 18, most likely college age and/or in college and upwards of 25 years old.

Wikipedia says: “New-adult Fiction or post-adolescent literature is a recent category of fiction for young adults first proposed by St. Martin's Press in 2009. St. Martin’s Press editors wanted to address the coming-of-age that also happens in a young person’s twenties. They wanted to consider stories about young adults who were legally adults, but who were still finding their way in building a life and figuring out what it means to be an adult.  *Does this mean St. Martin's can take responsibility for coining, "New Adult"?*

Whereas Young Adult is known as “coming of age”, New Adult encompasses a coming of age tone, but with more adult situations. Those who are entering college or are of college age, usually eighteen and nineteen, are not really “adults” mentally although their ages legally make them adults. I can understand characters, and the situations they find themselves a few years out of high school could be considered New Adult, but this is where it gets murky for me. Why is the 21-25 year group New Adult? This age range is “adult” as stated by the laws of the land and mainly found in adult fiction. Characters in some cases are married and have children by 25. So, why if a character or set of characters are between the ages of 21-25, it’s considered New Adult?

To be honest, the New Adult genre confuses the heck out of me. I originally thought New Adult was more of a mature Young Adult with adult situations, such as more open and frank discussions regarding various life scenarios and not fade to black sex scenes, as well as more adult language used not usually found in Young Adult. But lately I feel the New Adult label is being thrown around unjustly because it’s become very popular in the self publishing world and authors are going to jump on this label because it helps with their sales and gains more readership.

I've started read more New Adult books. One such book is Jessica Sorensen’s recent release, The Secret of Ella and Micha. Both main protagonists are two years out of high school and legal adults. This book still has a Young Adult vibe, but there are very adult type situations such as the very grown up attraction Ella and Micha have for one another (which the both act on throughout the novel), as well as some emotional issues such as Ella’s father being an alcoholic and the suicide of her chemically imbalanced mother before she went away to college. Micha hasn’t gone to college and is trying to figure out his future, much like many his age.

There’s the very popular Easy by Tamara Webber that takes place in college and features the main protagonist in her freshman year dealing with the breakup with her long term boyfriend and a rape attempt,  as well as falling in love with another. Perhaps Easy was the catalyst to jump start the New Adult craze?

Or perhaps Beautiful Disaster is the reason New Adult is so popular? For the longest time Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire had many people arguing if it was Young Adult or New Adult. Based on the situations that arise in Beautiful Disaster and the setting of the characters being in college, I would say this book is a New Adult, and based on the timing, might be a big reason why New Adult has become so popular.

The books I've mentioning make sense, at least to me, being given the New Adult label. But then there are a few that have been given the label New Adult (perhaps by the author?) that seems to be stretching.

Losing It by Cora Cormack is one book that could be a New Adult. Now I haven’t read it, so I can’t give my opinion, but based on reviews and the author’s website where Cora considers herself to be an author of New Adult, Losing It could be a New Adult novel since the main protagonist is a 21 year old senior in college. But the heroine ends up having a one night stand with a man who ends up being her professor. There’s apparently sexy love scenes, much like you find in adult romances, and the situation appears to be more of an adult romance that a New Adult. So if a book is being labeled New Adult, and the characters are “adults” based on their age, it’s perfectly okay to have in your face sex scenes and not fade to black ones that usually occur in Young Adult?

When it comes to graphic sex scenes or the tone of them, that's were I question what genre a book is. Young Adult is known for having fade to black sex scenes, but in New Adult it can go either way? If so, who's the reading audience for New Adults? Readers over 18? Teens in high school or perhaps even middle school? 

New Adult has become the hot new genre that has really taken off thanks to self publishing. I can see this genre growing by leaps in bounds in 2013 and over the next few years. But who or what decides what books are New Adult? Just because you have a character between the ages of 21-25 doesn’t make it a New Adult.

The Guardian UK last month asked this same question about the New Adult genre in an article, and brings up many things I’ve wondered as well:

“Publishers love creating new genres in order to try to sell more books and the newest addition to the genre pool is "new adult" fiction. That's the label that has been created for books in which the main characters transform from teenagers into adults and try to navigate the difficulties of post-adolescent life: first love, starting university, getting a job, and so on.

The new genre is meant to be for readers aged 14-35 but how likely is it that a 14-year-old reader would enjoy the same story as a 35-year-old? There may be issues with the content – a story set in a university could include adult language and themes that are either inappropriate for a 14 or 15-year old – or, more likely, what one age group finds exciting may simply be boring for the other.

The book that has sparked this flurry of marketing excitement, Tammara Webber’s Easy with the main character being raped. Is "new adult" a sufficient enough warning to younger readers that the content of the book may be darker than an old-style "young adult" book, or does it just muddy the waters even further?”

So, for fans of New Adult books, what makes a book a “New Adult” read? Can you recommend any books that embodies the “rules” of the New Adult genre? And where do you see the New Adult genre going in the next few years?



e. said...

I think, in general, New Adult means post high school and, generally, college. They have more mature situations than strict YA and I think this genre is going to expand greatly in the next few years.

My favorite NA is Easy but Crash by Nicole Williams, the Seabreeze series by Abbi Glines, Chance Encounters and Something Like Normal are all really good, too!

ahz1 said...

I like this question - I'm glad to see someone address it.

Out of the books you mentioned, I have only read Easy by Tammara Webber. I think that the New Adult genre is a good fit for this book and I would recommend it for senior high students and up, solely because it does touch upon the topic of date rape and its repercussions. It's probably a book I'd want my daughter to read, if I had one.

I think that the New Adult genre can encompass books where the main character is an older, mature teen. Angelfall by Susan Ee comes to mind. I could not see that book as young adult and I was surprised that it was classified there. Poison Studay by Maria V. Snyder is another one where I would hesitate to market to young adults. In fact, there was both a YA and Adult version of that book available in the bookstore.
Perhaps New Adult was developed because adults were too embarrassed to buy YA books? I'm not sure.

keripeardon said...

I just learned about this new genre and I'm really excited about it, because my new novel (part of a trilogy) falls into "New Adult."

The protagonist is 16 at the beginning, but is considered an adult by her culture. She sometimes gets caught between American culture--which still sees her as a child--and her people's culture, which says she's legally an adult. It affects how she can live and who she can be with. But, in the end, she becomes an adult and ends up taking care of the people who took care of her as a child.

I've been reluctant to classify it as YA, as there's a lot of violence and some sex, but people don't want to see it as an adult book because of Kalyn's age and the fact that it is a coming-of-age story.

KB/KT Grant said...

Sorry, I've been without internet access because of Sandy but now I'm back.

e: I've heard great things about Abbi Glines. I'll have to give her a read.

ahz1: I just finished reading Easy and what a fantastic book. One of the best I read this year.

Keri: Congrats on your release! If you want you're more than welcome to do a guest post here about your book and the NA genre :)