What is New Adult? Well, as this post makes abundantly clear, nobody has really settled on a definition. Elizabeth gathers up definitions from AAAAALL over the place. It’s a hotly debated topic. For my purposes, my favorite was this definition by Jane from 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.”
Molly McAdams, over at an interview with Bookalicious Pam, defines it as “a genre where it’s all about the time in your life when you’re legally an adult, but you’re finding out exactly what it means to be an adult. It’s all about the highs and lows that we’ll come across in our lives as we get to experience everything without having your parents there trying to guide you. It’s terrifying and thrilling all at the same time.”
Pam said: OMG, I’m an adult. WTF do I do now? (I do love her).
Laurie sez: Where YA is about first experiences–first kiss, first love, first crush, first moral dilemma–NA takes it one step further. The protagonists are in college or otherwise on their own as legal adults, and are experiencing deeper and more complex “firsts” than they did while in high school. Plus you can show them having sex.
But what about me? What do I think? I’ve talked about this a little bit before back in 2010 (clearly I’ve been thinking about this a while).
Back when I was growing up, I jumped from kid books (I voraciously devoured all Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Babysitters Club available) to adult books (Mary Higgins Clark and other mystery greats) when I was 13. YA did not exist as a concept back then, and what little was available had such high handed moralizing and poor understanding of actual teenagers so as not to be actually appealing to real teens. There was L.J. Smith, but once I plowed through her books, there was nothing else, which is why I started writing in the first place. But I digress.
I was always curious WHY there was such a gap in the ages of book characters. In high school, I wanted to read about college and those early years after. There was NOTHING. It jumped straight to adults with grown up problems. Which were interesting but with which I did not always manage to successfully identify. That’s where this whole concept of NA fits in.
First off, NA is not even a genre, in my opinion. It’s an audience, an age bracket. And within that audience or age bracket, you have every other ACTUAL genre. Romance. Mysteries. Sci Fi. Urban Fantasy. Contemporary. Whatever. And each of those actual genres has conventions that should be adhered to, no matter the age of the protagonists. The kicker, and what makes these books NA, is that the stories center around issues that are very much related to the transitory time of your life when you ARE a new adult. You’re not in high school, but you’re not well established in your career and talking about 401ks either.
It seems that the vast majority of what’s being talked about in NA is contemporary. To a point, I think this is because publishers are trying to replicate the success of 50 Shades (which some are crediting as having kicked off NA, though St. Martin’s made their call for New Adult manuscripts all the way back in 2009). But it’s also because the issues and themes that really suit NA didn’t actually exist before modern society. It used to be that you went from child to grown up lickity split. You got married in your late teens, worked your job, had a family. Rinse. Repeat. Even up to a few decades ago, you graduated high school and went straight on out to get a Real Job. Now going to college is the norm, which delays entry into the Real World. And the state of the economy is such that full independence from parents isn’t happening for everybody right upon graduation (somebody want to explain how you’re supposed to get experience for an entry level job that requires experience?). This gives rise to a whole host of new issues and challenges.
Sharon Bayliss makes a great list of possible themes and life events that would be a good fit for NA:
- College life
- Moving out of your parents’ house and living alone for the first time
- First jobs
- Deciding who you want to be, career-wise, and in general. Identity issues. Existential issues.
- First serious relationships, finding love
- Sex – It’s less important that it be a “first time” as it is in YA. But the character should still be figuring stuff out. Since our readers can watch R rated movies, we can also be a little more explicit here without as much controversy.
- Experimentation – Sex, drugs, alcohol. Of course, not all new adults engage in experimentation, but the phrase, “I experimented with “x” in college,” is a phrase for a reason.
- Isolation – Living alone for the first time can be difficult
- Single life – New adults often do not have life partners and families yet, so their main relationships may be with friends and boyfriends/girlfriends.
- A struggle to “find yourself”
- Change – Moving out, going to college, finding a job…it’s a lot of transition.
- Money challenges
In discussing this issue with Claire, she was asking if I thought there was room for genre fiction in NA. To which I say HELL YES. With qualifiers. Just making your hero or shero fit the age bracket isn’t enough. Just like in YA, you need to hit on those transition themes that are appropriate to the age group. And that is going to vary from genre to genre.
To go back to part of Jane’s definition: 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.
I say it depends very much on the world in which you’re writing. A NA high fantasy might be hard to pull off because in that kind of world, there’s not really a lot of in between from child to adult. Whereas a mystery that follows a lowly graduate student investigating the death of a classmate or favorite professor has plenty of room to hit on those transitions. Or the bunny I’m playing with that’s straight up urban fantasy and deals with a hero and heroine who are older than teens but are not considered full-fledged warriors in their society yet. It just depends on how it’s dealt with.
I hope that NA DOES explode on the genre fiction scene because, frankly, we’ve well established that I don’t much like reality, and all these contemporary NA novels about people doing the single life and sleeping around and being all Sex in the City post college hold no appeal for me. I never did it. I met my husband at 19. Married him at 23. SO freaking grateful I got to skip the stress.
Anyway, what about you? Do you find NA appealing? Which definition do YOU thing rings most true?