A Case for New Adult

A children’s book is generally marketed for readers around the age of 5-8, though it depends on when the child starts reading. Around 8, they’re probably ready for some light chapter books, which start to teeter toward the middle grade age range of 8-12. Eventually, and this is where it gets sticky, young adult comes in, which is said to range from 12-18, and which feels absolutely psychotic because if I read some of the YA that I read today at 12, yeahhhhhhhh, that wouldn’t have been great. But what comes between YA and Adult? New Adult, but you won’t find that listed anywhere in any store ever because it makes sense, right, to just say that you’re an adult once you’re legal in the US, and that’s that.

For a long time, too, I thought this was the case. When I graduated high school at 18, it was to study at the University of Maine at Farmington in order to get a degree in Creative Writing. While I was there, I added a secondary major in English, and I probably read about 15-20 YA books the entire four years that I was there. Why? Because, at 18, every bookstore that I went into told me that I no longer belonged in the YA section. Since I was legally an adult, I should be shopping in the adult section, and that was–well, it sucked.

I really don’t understand what the aversion to NA is, either. There is such a huge developmental gap between 18 and whatever the hell adulthood is, and you can’t just say, “Well, I’m 18 now, guess that means I can’t read about teens falling in love, it’s political fantasy or death for me now.” Truthfully, there should be no stigma at all where just because you’re a certain age, you’re not allowed to read certain books anymore, but that’s a whole other argument. As is the fact that YA should still be geared toward young adults, though that’s kind of the issue I’m shouting about now because um, olá? New adult? It should be a thing, and it should be the gap between young adult and adult.

And, technically, if you Google new adult, it’s there! It exists! It will tell you that it’s out there in the world, but you will not find it in your bookstore, and there’s pretty much no books labeled as it, and it just kind of exists in this vacuum where we yell that we want it, and nobody listens.

Now, the proposed (or “official”, but I’ll believe that when I see it) age for new adult is 18-24 with a stretch toward 30. I definitely lean more toward the 30 end because, at 28 right now, I still very much feel like a new adult, and I want to read about people my age still figuring their shit out because yeah, same. And you can’t tell me that new adult doesn’t work because it holds both people in college, recently out of college, and well out of college because young adult does the same thing. I’m really baffled at the fact that YA starts with age 12, actually, because I can’t think of a single YA book that I’ve read in the last several years that I would have wanted my 12-year-old self to read, but I digress. There’s such a wide range of development in 12-18, and just shoving everything into an adult category after that makes no sense! Why separate children’s, middle grade, and young adult if you’re just going to ignore everything that happens after 18?

I know some of these titles that I’m dropping in are going to make some of you scratch your head. The Shadows Between Us as NA, really? That’s the hill you want to die on? I hear you saying it, but think about it. While there is a lot of the familiar YA elements in that kind of fantasy, it’s very much geared toward an older audience, but not an adult kind of audience, or how adult is generally thought of. But new adult? As someone in my 20s, yeah. I really liked reading this right now. I think I would have liked it as a teenager, but I definitely think I liked it more now. And it’s not just that the MC is older than most YA novels, but that a lot of the elements in it are not ones I was considering as a young adult.

Sure, I’m never going to set out to woo a king just so I can kill him, but a lot of the emotions and experiences that the MC was going through in that book are ones that I started having post-18. And I know it’s not a hard and fast rule because everyone’s lives are different, and everyone is going to experience the same exact emotion at wildly different ages in their life. But I think, generally, that a lot of the elements in books like Serpent & Dove or Emergency Contact are ones that we do experience later in life. Mary HK Choi is an excellent author for this, too, and I hope that she continues to linger in the new adult age range because she does it so well. Because, for me, new adult is not just about college students. It’s not just about those really weird one to two years immediately post-undergrad. It’s about all those years in your 20s when you’re just really confused about everything, and you’re trying to piece things together, but feel like you’re not going at the right speed, and you’re just kind of tired and aggravated and struggling.

Say what you will about Permanent Record, but I think it’s the perfect example of new adult. And I know that RWRB is generally shelved in the adult section, but come on. It’s a classic new adult book, both because of the ages of the MCs and because of the experiences that they go through. Again, yes, not all of us are going to be the biracial first son of the first woman president falling in love with the prince of England, but discovering yourself? Trying desperately to make new friends? Absolutely falling apart, like in Permanent Record, and burning out before you set yourself back on your feet? These are new adult experiences, and they need to be recognized.

For so long, I thought that turning 18 meant that I had to now read literary books. I had to read Ulysses and Austen, and I wasn’t allowed to enjoy things like the true beauty that is Felix Ever After. Just because I was in college didn’t mean I should be reading about other people in college. Just because I was still living at home and feeling like I was doing it wrong, struggling to make ends meet and figure out what the hell it meant to be an adult didn’t mean I should see those experiences reflected back at me. Because when you jump from young adult to adult, those experiences disappear. Your characters go from bumbling, baffled idiots to well-adjusted, confident warriors. There’s no in-between, and that is so, so harmful.

I want new adult so bad, it’s making me crazy. And it’s not just because it’s solely what I write, because it’s the age that I’m currently in, because the gap between young adult and adult makes no sense. It’s because it’s necessary. We need books that are still about exploration even when we’re no longer considered young adults. To look at an 18-year-old and tell them, “That’s it. You’re an adult now. Grow up.” That’s bullshit! If you want to look at it scientifically, our brains don’t stop developing until 25, and yet we’re suddenly considered adults at 18? Nahhhhhh. Straight up hard and fast NOPE. I am still struggling at 28. I’m still trying to figure out my life. Hell, at 30, I’ll probably still be doing it, and these age ranges are really just a publishing scheme, but that’s just such a whole other pessimistic post that I’m never going to write.

But you can’t just tell us to have it all figured out at 18, to never give us stories of people fumbling around in their 20s. I want to open a book with a beautiful cover that’s not suddenly minimalist or boring because it’s adult, and I want to see myself in those pages. I want to see “adults” falling apart. I want to see them discovering themselves at 27. I want to see doors opening and possibility finally becoming a thing to yearn for in the middle of college years. I want to see all the elements of YA, but elevated, though not quite polished yet. I want to see the mess. I want to see the gap, where there may or may not be a bridge beneath my feet, but I’m going to damn well keep moving forward because that is what it means to be a new adult.

My life is in shambles, but I’m going to persevere anyway.

What do you think? Is there a place for new adult in the world, or are you comfortable with the current young adult and THEN BAM adult situation? That was not an unbiased question, and I’m not sorry!

What is a book that you consider NA that’s not labeled that way?

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she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

12 thoughts on “A Case for New Adult

  1. YES MARY YES!! I’m all for the push for New Adult!! I need 25 year olds struggling to figure out their lives. I need 28 year olds floundering around and wondering what the heck is going on. I need those 22 year olds fresh out of college and scared as hell. My own WIP I’m working on now is New Adult. I’m writing my story for all those struggling “Adults” out there who are all just trying to stay afloat and figure out adulting. I’m glad you are too!! Let’s keep writing, get our stories out there and push this genre!!! XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES! One of the pieces of feedback I got on a recent novel was that it felt like the MC had no sense of direction in her life, and that still having two jobs and not knowing what she wanted to do for a career didn’t make sense at 25, and I was like, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I barely know what I’m doing at 28, never mind three years ago. We NEED to see people in their 20s just totally unsure of everything because it’s so much more realistic.

      I’m so glad to hear you’re writing NA, too! Hopefully, someday, it’ll become an actual section in the bookstore!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that publishing is in desperate need for a new age category. I don’t think New Adult would be the right one just because I think at this point, it’s become too niche to allow much growth within the category. I think another problem with YA books is that women fantasy writers especially are forced to modify their books into a YA setting instead of NA so as a result, there is more mature content than what needs to happen.

    I am also in the range of NA characters so it is really hard for me to see many characters my age because it is so niche. I also prefer writing in a college setting than high school so it is a real struggle because there is an idea that YA has to be about high schoolers. There needs to be a shift because it puts writers like us in such an awful position.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YA definitely isn’t the answer, given that it’s geared for young adults, but Adult is such a vast age range that there needs to be something in between the two. And I do think it makes sense for YA to be mostly high schoolers because the experience of being in school vs not is such a different lifestyle that I think it would end up being detrimental to YA if we tried to put college-level or higher books in that age range. Because YA is an age range, not a genre, and it must remain geared toward those ages, or we’re just saying that the teenage experience is not worth the space.

      I don’t know, NA makes a lot of sense to me. Having just YA and Adult is too big of a gap, too much of saying that teenagers must become adults the second they hit their 20s, and that’s bad for everyone involved, so there’s got to be something nestled in between. And putting new adults/people in 20s-30s in YA takes away the space for young adults/teenagers, and that’s a whole other mess.

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  3. I don’t even know what NA is as far as….what books qualify. I know some are deliberately marketed as such (Stiefvater’s latest series iirc is NA?) but they don’t have a section for it yet. I feel like YA has such a wide range now days. If the main character is 18 but they’re dealing with…marriage or something because it’s a fantasy world then maybe it should be NA?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is such a grey area, and I wish there was some more clarity because I feel like there’s so much discourse, especially lately, on what belongs in YA and what experiences fit. But, at the same time, there should be space between YA and A because those experiences are wildly different, but there’s no bridge between them. So many questions, so few answers! But the current system is definitely broken. (Like most of them.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree, it’s truly wild to me that YA is supposed to be 12-18, when there is such a HUGE developmental difference between those ages. So few YA books actually feel like something 12 yr old me would want to (or should) read. And it truly sucks that there’s no bridge between YA and adult books, when there are all those years of technically being an adult when you still have no idea what you’re doing!! (I’m still very much in that phase.)
    I think there are so many books, both YA and adult, that would genuinely do so much better if they were marketed to a New Adult audience…and if publishers put the effort into creating that as a marketing category. I totally agree with your examples, and I think RWRB and Ninth House are pretty much EXACTLY what I want NA to look like.
    Wonderful post, Mary! You absolutely put my thoughts on this into words.

    Liked by 1 person

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