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What is New Adult?
A pretty active topic on blogs, twitters, and even newspapers is something called “New Adult” books.
What is “New Adult,” exactly?
As I’ve thought about this — and don’t worry, I’m getting to it — I’ve decided to split this into multiple posts.
This first post is about the definition of “New Adult,” with links to several posts and articles about the topic.
Next, I’ll blog about what it means, exactly, to have such a definition, with a side of “is there a better name out there.”
Finally, will be a list of books that fit the definition of “New Adult”. And for that, I’ll be relying on you all to suggest titles.
So, what IS “New Adult?” Excellent question. What follows are the answers — but first, I strongly urge you to read all the posts I link to. This is a very hot, current topic; it’s been talked about for several months; there are nuanced discussions going on. Read the full posts to get the full context of what people did or didn’t say.
From Beyond Wizards and Vampires, To Sex at The New York Times: “books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.” So, almost a sub-genre of Young Adult, with “slightly older” characters and sexytimes.
From The Guardian (UK), Would You Read Novels Aimed at “New Adults”?: “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.” Well, that’s a bit different! Readers from aged 14 to 35. Instead of “sex,” it’s about “post-adolescent life.” Of 14 and 35 year olds.
From Bookshelvers Anonymous, The New Adult Category Revisited, a persuasive argument that included this: “I’ve talked with friends from college, and very few of us feel like “true” adults. Some of us still live at home. Few of us are completely financially independent. All of us are still going through that weird transition time with our parents. None of us have begun careers in our chosen fields. College, grad school, part-time jobs, and full-time jobs elsewhere for the sake of a paycheck are still very much in the picture. We’re not kids. We’re not happy-go-lucky teens. But we’re not adults either. The law might call us grown up, but we don’t feel grown up, and that’s what New Adult addresses.” Note that this doesn’t include the “sexytimes” from The New York Times. When you read this post in full, do not skip the comments. Persuasive, yes, but I’m not full persuaded as it seems this is a narrow life description for those in the age group mentioned.
The author Diana Peterfreund, at New Adult The 2012 Edition, observes “there’s a name for that kind of fiction [described in The New York Times article and elsewhere.] It’s called a contemporary romance novel.” Peterfreund says quite a bit more, but placing these books within not just the adult fiction realm, but a specific genre, interested me. So I looked to see what the romance bloggers had to say about “New Adult.”
Over at Dear Author, Jane wrote New Adult: It’s not about the sex (but don’t be afraid of the sex either) “New Adult, however, is not just sexed up YA, but an exploration of a time period in a character’s life. The post high school / pre responsible time period” and “New Adult is a time period and a feel — a newly emancipated person on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others. Their whole world is their oyster. The future is a bit more nebulous. The space for experimentation exists and the cast of characters varies widely, not just limited to the over the top billionaire but has room for the pierced, tattooed, low income, and all those in between.” In a way, Jane does what Bookshelvers does, going beyond the s.e.x. and focusing on the content of the books. Both are still tied to ages, though not as expansive as the Guardian.
So, does that clear it up for you? In one sentence, can you tell your friends, students, patrons, coworkers, family, anyone and everyone just what “New Adult” is and isn’t?
I’ve got more for you.
Kelly at Stacked Books, in Some Thoughts On “New Adult” and Also “Cross-Unders“, goes back to when St. Martin’s Press used this term in 2009 to seek books “featuring stories about characters between 18 and their mid-20s. Note that the goal of seeking books like this was to have books that felt YA but were for the adult market. More information, including the discussion of new adult not being a necessary genre but rather a means of generating more marketable and varied literary fiction for the adult market featuring 20-somethings, can be found here.” This brings this back to YA while noting it’s part of the adult market, adds ages but steps back from listing specific life experiences.
Next I looked at the always smart Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and The New Adult Category: Thoughts and Questions. It gives follow-up to the St. Martin’s Press contest in 2009 that used the “New Adult” first, which I found fascinating. Cause, that’s how I roll. The questions raised are the questions I have, which I’ll talk about more tomorrow (read the blog post in full), but in Clear Eyes answering those questions they said this: “So, we see here that there’s a significant gap in the experiences represented in both YA and adult fiction, the 18-30 range. And this is a pretty interesting time in people’s lives. Personally, I’d love to see more work set in college, because that environment is ripe with great stories. But, I’m not convinced that that age range cannot be served by the existing categories. YA has reached up to encompass stories about older characters’ experiences and adult fiction has explored younger-than-normal characters’ lives.” So, while it doesn’t technically say “this is a definition of “New Adult”,” it does address what would be found in “New Adult” books. The age range pushes out to 30 (but not quite 35).
Word for Teen took this up in Sex, Explicit Sex, and Young Adult Novels. Word for Teen doesn’t talk about “New Adult,” but I felt it was important to have this post included because it’s a reminder that YA does not fade to black when it comes to sex; and often takes a nuanced look at sex. I’m a bit amused I include that book banners and censors are appalled at what they believe is too much sex in teen books; and here is (according to The New York Times) a genre saying there isn’t enough sex. Moral of the story is one can never win.
I’ll end my roundup of posts with an interview the ever brilliant Andrew Karre gave over at Mitali Perkin’s Mitali’s Fire Escape blog this past September: “My (admittedly meager) understanding of what’s meant by “new adult” is that it’s an audience description (I’ve seen 14-35, and that is preposterous)—something akin to a TV demographic. This is a great way to sell advertising (I guess), but I think it’s a s***** way to make art. For me, genres are campfires around which artists gather, not ways of understanding an audience for art or entertainment. I think there easily could be a bonfire to be built around the shifting definition of adulthood. I think that’s a real cultural phenomenon, but it needs to come from the writers not the marketers.”
What is the definition of “New Adult”? If possible, I’d like to keep this as narrow as possible in defining what “New Adult” is, or isn’t. As to whether it’s a genre, a category, a niche area of romance or young adult, something from marketeers or from readers — I’d like to focus on that in my next blog post, with comments there.
So, it seems to me that “New Adult” has characters from 18 to 29. It’s people in a time period that is after the perceived safety and narrowness and intimacy of high school — and by intimacy I mean, having a physical place where everyone goes and shares lunch times and has common experiences of classrooms and lunch times. I say perceived, because that’s not always true.
I’ll confess, one of my pet peeves about some YA books is just how “together” certain characters are at the end, just how much they have “figured out” because, well, real life doesn’t work like that. Your high school boyfriend is not the forever love; high school seniors don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives. I get being frustrated with that in YA , and understand wanting books that show people at 23 don’t have it all figured out.
Here, now, is my problem with defining “New Adult”. People are figuring out their lives well past the age of 29. Ask anyone, like me, who has made a change of careers. Or someone who has gone to college later in life. Or who has been in a relationship for a decade or more who suddenly finds themselves without that partner and no idea how to set up utilities because their partner did that.
At the same time, you hit 18, and like it or not, life figured out or not, you’re a legal adult. Contracts, voting, marriage, criminal justice — adult. Doesn’t matter whether or not someone is figuring out life or not, life goes on.
At this point, I have to say “New Adult” reminds me of a show I both like and don’t like at the same time: Girls on HBO. Where Hannah and her friends are, seems to be the place that these New Adult books would be set.
And then I come to Andrew’s point: is “New Adult” more a description of audience than of content? I think this is part of my difficulty in coming up with a definition. To cycle back to Girls, while it’s about twentysomethings, it’s a show that has appeal beyond twentysomethings. Otherwise I wouldn’t be watching it. Can an audience define a genre?
Still no answers. Many questions.
How do you define “New Adult”? And do you want to share any other blog posts or articles that talk about “New Adult”?
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About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is email@example.com.
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