I’m twenty-one, and I love young adult novels. I’m a sucker for drama and angst, and I’m even a secret fan of the dreaded love triangle. Hormones might make life hell, but they yield great stories. Young adult novels feel more real and raw than a lot of adult books.
YA is all about firsts. First loves. First jobs. First times saving the world from an evil overlord.
While stories about the transition into adulthood are all well and good, there aren’t many books about what happens when you get there. The new adult category was created to fill that niche. The term was first used by St. Martin’s Press during a contest for novel submissions targeted at 18-25 year olds. In theory, it was a great idea. But in practice, new adult novels have been criticised as pretty much young adult with sex.
And a quick look at the new adult shelf on Goodreads explains why:
That’s a lot of contemporary romance.
As someone smack-bang in the middle of that target age group myself, I can say with a fair amount of authority that being a new adult is not about having sex. Don’t get me wrong, I like sex, but my priorities are elsewhere. I’m not abnormal in this regard; most of my friends aged 18-25 aren’t overly interested in mating either.
I’m gonna go ahead and argue that Fifty Shades of Grey is the book that kicked this all off. While it’s not technically a new adult novel (I’d go so far as to say it’s not really a novel at all so much as the phrases “down there”, “inner goddess”, and “oh my” repeated a few hundred times), before Fifty Shades, successful books with twenty-one-year-old protagonists were hard to come by. But after it took off, a bunch of steamy romances with university-aged heroines sprung up. Think Easy by Tammara Webber or Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. These are the novels we took to calling new adult. But no one’s denying that Fifty Shades of Grey, at least, was read by people closer to the author’s age than the protagonist’s.
While writing this post, I quickly polled my friends on social media. Most of them knew about the new adult category but preferred to read plain ol’ YA — if not adult thrillers, fantasy, or sci-fi.
New adult books aren’t being written for new adults. They’re being written about us.
I’m not saying they’re bad books or that twentysomethings never enjoy contemporary romances. We do. But every other category is filled with books of more than one genre. Why should NA be any different?
I want to read books that capture the essence of being out in the world on your own for the first time. I want to read novels with characters who struggle not to find themselves (as in YA) but to find their place in the world. At the moment, a lot of new adult glosses over these issues in favour of OMG HOT GUYS.
Why haven’t I read about a group of students who get a great flat super-cheap, but find out the landlord screwed them over when it turns out there’s a trapdoor to hell in the hallway closet? Where are the books about arts graduates taking jobs as assassins because it’s easier than finding work with an English degree? Why isn’t there a sci-fi novel about a ragtag group of new recruits taking a military spaceship for a joyride during O week?
I’m twenty-one, and I want to read a new adult novel that isn’t about straight white people screwing.
Gwendoline Nelson lives and writes in Wellington, New Zealand. She has a weakness for vintage dresses, violent crime, makeup, and murder. She blogs at WritingKills.me and can be found on twitter as @writing_kills.