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Books That May Or May Not Be New Adult

I say “may or may not be” New Adult because as we’ve seen, there isn’t a general consensus on definition.  Also, the books that have already been published that may meet the reading interests of those wanting New Adult are to be found in many different aisles of the library or bookstore. See my previous posts, What is New Adult and New Adult, Where Does It Go.

Where does one start?

First, go back to the posts from What is New Adult. Many have titles, especially for recent books. The New York Times article, for instance, mentions some recent books; and the post at Stacked Books contains a long list of books.

I believe that there are books that meet this reading need, and have been. Now, finding them — that is the thing, but that is always the thing. So this is a mix of “where to look” as well as specific titles. Whether they fit someone’s specific reading interests, well, that could vary. For example, I believe that some of the adult books recommended for teen readers fall under “New Adult.” So, here you go!

Alex Awards. Administered by YALSA, a division of ALA. As explained at the Wikipedia entry, it is “designed to commend and honor the ten books published for adults during the previous year, which have been also judged to have “special appeal” for young readers, primarily those in the 12 to 18 age range.” The full list of winners, going back to 1998, are at both Wikipedia and the YALSA site.

Reading Rants has some lists that may help out: Slacker Fiction: Twenty-Something Reads for Older Teens and Why Should Your Parents Have All The Fun? Adult Reads for Teens.

Here at School Library Journal, there is the blog Adult Books 4 Teens.

There are blogs like NA Alley that focus on New Adult titles. There are also bloggers who feature New Adult, such as Mostly YA Book Obsessed’s Top 2012 New Adult Books. One problem I had finding specific blogs and posts and lists had to do with the term “New Adult” because I kept finding people talking about new adult books rather than “New Adult” books.

Booklists of titles set in college, with comments about some of the books in those lists that I’ve read.

The Fictionistas, College Daze. I LOVE that it includes Patterson’s Kiss the Girls.

Flashlight Worthy, Back to School: Campus Novels. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean is such a terrific college book AND fantasy. Class Reunion by Jaffe is typical of the types of college-setting books I found when in high school. The Secret History by Tartt…. I adore that book so, so much.

Flavorwire, Fifteen Great Novels Set at Real-Life Colleges. If you’re hungering for college setting books and you haven’t read The Rules of Attraction by Ellis, stop reading this post and go track down a copy now. And Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited! I didn’t even think about that one, until looking at that list.

Back in 2003, I put together a list of YA books set in college. As I read through them, it’s mainly first year at college experiences. Here they are: Battle Dress by Amy Efaw, a young woman’s freshman year at West Point; Better Than Running at Night by Hillary Frank, a freshman art student at college; Beyond the Limbo Silence, a young woman from Trinidad attends college in Wisconsin; Body Bags by Christopher Golden, a mystery series featuring a college freshman; Jesse by Gary Soto, about two brothers at junior college; My Father’s Scar by Michael Cart, about a young man in his freshman year at college; My Life as a Girl By Elizabeth Mosier, another college freshman story (and wow I wish this author had written more books); Number 6 Fumbles by Rachel Solar-Tuttle, about the impact of uncertainty on one’s actions as a college student tries to find herself; An Ocean Apart, A World Away by Lensey Namioka, in the 1920s, a teenager travels from China to Cornell University to study to be a doctor; On My Own, by Caitlin O’ Connor by Melody Carlson, again a freshman look at college but this time from a Christian author; The Squared Circle by James Bennett, a college freshman but this time a young man who is a basketball player; Sweetest Gift by Stephanie Perry Moore, African-American teenager Payton, freshman year at college, and also Christian fiction; Worst Case Scenario by Catherine Clark, yet another freshman year at college.

A book I remember fondly from my own “new adult” years is Tell Me If the Lovers Are Losers by Cynthia Voigt, about three different girls thrown together as roommates.

From shortly after I wrote that list, above, Lara M. Zeises’ Bringing Up The Bones, with the main character taking off a year before college.

Some non-college-setting books:

Melina Marchetta’s the Chronicles of Lumatere have main characters who are in their late teens, early twenties.

Megan Whalen Turner is a bit vague about how old Gen is in The Thief books, but given the time span of the books, I think late teens is true for at least some of the books.

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones features college aged main characters, and is a haunting mystery/suspense tale.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride is funny horror/supernatural staring a slacker who isn’t going to college.

Pure by Julianna Baggott is an adult post-nuclear dystopia featuring main characters who are in their mid-to-late teens.

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce has main characters who are teens, not in high school or college. They are a bit adrift as they look for a place to belong, as well as fighting off werewolves.

I wonder if the first Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear would work? Maisie’s backstory, as told here, is fascinating: a young servant whose intelligence is recognized by the family she works for. She works full time and is tutored after work, eventually going off to University as well as becoming a nurse during World War I. But, as with the characters in Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Maisie knows what she wants from life. There is no “figuring it out” but rather “getting it done.” Does that matter?

I have to admit, having read mostly young adult books these past years, I am not as strong with what adult books fit the reading needs. What suggestions do you have, from science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, etc.? In both adult and young adult?


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


  1. Your 3 posts on New Adult were really helpful, especially since you included many topical links and synthesized the material in a cohesive manner with thoughtful analysis. That to me is the genius of a good librarian; she/he is a tour guide through a world of books. I agree that a good story appeals to a wide audience, not to an age category only.

    I’d like to read more books set at college (eg Brideshead and A Secret History) and was discouraged from writing a novel like that myself since they are notoriously hard to sell, at least in the past. At an early stage, I switched the setting of my WIP from a university to a boarding school so it could be YA. My story actually works better that way, but I’d like to consider a university setting for another novel. I practically live on a college campus where my husband teaches so it would be a natural fit for me. I’ve always enjoyed books set during turbulent and formative times of life. I love both YA and books that could be called New Adult fiction. To me those genres are marketing categories, but when I start writing a novel, I’m more focused on the story.

    Other realistic “new adult” from adult literary, commercial and historical fiction:

    The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (3 students at Brown and after graduation)
    One Day by David Nicholls (life after graduation in the UK)
    A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (a college student in India whose mother wants her to marry)
    The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin (struggling actor in the 1970s)
    Intuition and The Cookbook Collector both by Allegra Goodman (graduate students and new professionals)
    The Last Nude by Ellis Avery (an artist model in 1920s Paris)
    many novels by Haruki Murakami (surreal fiction set in Japan)

    BTW, I found your wonderful blog via a retweet from Elizabeth Wein and am now following you.

  2. Bringing Up The Bones, yes, wonderful.
    And I already expressed my adoration for the Body of Evidence series! 🙂

  3. I think Claire Zulkey’s An Off Year is underappreciated, perhaps because Cecily is in many ways privileged and lucky. But I thought Zulkey really captured the feelings of uncertainty and apprehension that can occur when starting college. Also, here’s my list of college-set YA novels.

    For YA historical fiction, how about Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (though it’s also “getting it done” instead of “figuring it out”), Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, Ellen Emerson White/Zack Emerson’s Vietnam War books, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell (maybe even What I Saw and How I Lied?), Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, or The Agency series by Y.S. Lee? For that matter, Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, and The Tin Princess. And Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bones books (yeah, I know Karou goes to art school, but still!) and Libba Bray’s The Diviners for YA fantasy.

    As for adult books (published for adults, not as YA, at any rate), there’s Megan McCafferty’s last three Jessica Darling books, though it is of the chick lit-type NA. For genre adult with NA appeal, maybe Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series?

    Oh, oh, and I think memoirs could have a ton of appeal, since so many of them are about people figuring out what they want and trying to achieve it, or about the turning points in their lives. If a reader looking for NA was open to memoirs, in YA, I would totally recommend To Timbuktu by Scieszka and Weinberg, and, if no romance angle is necessary, Hole in My Life by Gantos covers the same NA-ish age.

  4. The Young Adult Edgar Awards can be a good place to find YA titles that skew a bit older…Reality Check by Peter Abrahams or The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford wouldn’t be out of place on adult mystery shelves.

  5. All three of your New Adult posts are invaluable, Liz. Thank you! I’ve offered a few more titles (and thoughts) next door at Adult Books 4 Teens,

  6. Thank you for these posts. This is the first I’ve heard of NA…I think The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer might work? The characters are married and have kids, but still figuring things out, magic/mystery adventure-wise.

  7. See, I really do think of CODE NAME VERITY as exactly what I want New Adult to be. The characters do have purpose and goals – but they also know that those will probably disappear with the end of the war, so they’re in a holding pattern. Maddie says repeatedly that she doesn’t know what she’s going to do after the war (and she sounded a lot like me around the beginning of senior year of college). She knows what she loves, but she also knows she probably won’t be allowed to do that. BUT, at the same time, it’s not just dithering – there’s more to it. There’s the underlying uncertainty and fear, but there’s also, you know, a plot that’s not only related to that.

    I haven’t read MAISIE DOBBS, but it looks like I’ll have to!