Okay, so we all know what Young Adult (or YA) is. Novels written for a teenage audience. And we know what “Adult” books are. Books written for an adult audience.
If you don’t know what “New Adult” is, that’s okay, because it’s kind of a new phenomenon and doesn’t have an aisle at the library yet. Simply put, New Adult, or NA, are novels geared towards that aggravating in between stage in life, where you’re technically an adult but are lost in the big, wide world and are pretty sure you’re still a kid somehow.
Those can be pretty broad terms. An age-group can encompass a vast variety of experiences and lessons — and each of these can be different depending on the person. We all learn and grow at different rates, and everybody probably has different ideas of what should happen (or what’s appropriate) for a particular age group anyway.
For simplicities sake, we’ll go with this explanation I’ve heard and appeals to me: YA is about finding yourself, NA is about finding how you fit into the world.
Now, obviously, that’s simplistic. There are adult books that are stories about finding yourself or finding your place in the world. Honestly, I think “finding yourself” happens at any age and all throughout your life, but there does seem to be a particular foundational self-finding as a teen. Or self-solidifying. Or something. But anyway, NA is college-aged focused, tends to be more mature and have darker content.
Because certain things are more acceptable in NA… and the fact that not a lot of people know about NA, so those who do tend to dominate simply by design… and if we’re looking at numbers a lot of writers tend to write some element of romance… a lot of the writers spearheading the NA as an age-group write romance.
NA is able to delve into the area of sex and sexuality that is frowned upon in YA, which means that what people love about YA gets to be mixed with another very popular element: sex. Descriptions and “exploration” of sex is allowed in NA where it’s not in YA. A win-win for a lot of people.
However, this is also leading to a source of frustration.
Please note: THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ROMANCE. I love romance. I read quite a bit of romance. I’m a romantic person, I eat it up, especially when I want a happily ever after where everyone is okay in the end and the idea of reading anything about reality makes me want to goat-bolt into the nearest bed.
(I’m going to make goat-bolting a thing. It’s really fast. Trust me.)
Buuuuuuut. The frustration stems from the overwhelmed amount of romance that is dominating New Adult. NA seems to be, practically, just “YA with sex” instead of “college-aged life struggles of finding where you fit in with life.” (Which includes sex of course but you get what I’m saying.) NA has a huge capacity to explore A LOT, but many people of the NA age group or who enjoy the NA age group get frustrated by the seemingly never ending stories about sexual awakening.
Sometimes you want something non-romance. Not only because of the lovely asexual folks out there, who don’t want every book they read in their age group to be smut, but because diversity is a wonderful thing that leads to greatness. Also, choices, because that’s a thing, asexual or otherwise. Romance is great, but when you’re inundated with it you can become sick of it.
The truth is, I get really excited about New Adult stories. I’m a new adult. I feel like I’m in this adult world helplessly swimming in tar looking at everything like WTF AM I DOING. (Current world affairs don’t help.) Finding oneself is amazing and wonderful, but putting those pieces of yourself out in the world and finding how where best they fit keeps me up late wondering. This is where magic happens. This is where “oneself” starts changing the world. This is where “oneself” goes from meaning something just to you to finding the you that means something to other people. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, incredible. Sometimes it’s heartbreak and destruction. Sometimes it’s belonging and joy.
Anyway, the point is: NA is an age-group, not a genre, which means it’s capacity for story is GIGANTIC. I sometimes forget in my own little world where I write what I want, that reality doesn’t always reflect what I think it is or what I think it should be. So, it was really only recently that I realized, yeah, NA is pretty romance-heavy.
But I think there’s an evolution.Since it’s a new age-group, it takes a little bit before it’s fully fleshed out. Romance brought attention to NA: it’s becoming popular and noticed. Agents and publishers acknowledge it, the indie-publishing scene is all over it. Which means that now, as people realize it’s a thing, there will be people writing into it that have other stories to tell.
It’s funny, I wrote NA stories before it was even an age-group. I just wrote what I wanted to see in the world, I wasn’t really worried about it fitting in a bracket. Maybe that’s why I have confidence that NA will move on from “YA with sex” — because if I’m writing it, someone else had to be too. If readers and writers are frustrated about NA seeming limited to one genre, they’ll start writing something different.
NA will evolve. It will become more diverse. Many of us are working on making it so. And hey, if you’re one of those, I’d love to hear from you! Let’s be writing buddies.
Comments? Questions? What’s your experience with New Adult — are you writing it?