Young Adult literature, or YA, is an umbrella term used to describe stories whose protagonists are teenagers dealing with a variety of issues. Some have to do with everyday life, some with sparkly vampires. But what all of them have in common is the main characters’ age, and to a lesser degree its audience, because we know that not all YA readers are, well, young adults.
But what happens when the characters stop being teenagers, but are not quite adults? That’s where New Adult enters the picture.
New Adult fiction became its own genre when an explosion of self-published titles took the world by storm. It encompasses a more specific set of characters and circumstances: The protagonists are older, usually college-aged, and at a point in their lives where transition is the key world. These are truly coming-of-age stories where the characters find themselves at that crossroads point where adulthood begins. They are living alone for the first time, looking for jobs, experimenting with their newfound independence and deciding what to do with their lives. Love is also experienced in a whole different way; relationships maintain that volatile quality of their teenage years, while taking on a more serious tone when sex and commitment mix with responsibilities.
Tammara Webber’s Easy is a perfect example of what NA means and how popular it can be. It tells the story of Jaqueline, a girl who decided to follow her boyfriend to his college of choice, and put her own dreams on hold. But when he dumps her, she must face the consequences of her actions, come to terms with her choices, learn from them and fix her mistakes. All of this while dealing with sexual abuse, failed classes, new relationships and complicated friendships.
College isn’t the only setting for these stories, though. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller wasn’t marketed as New Adult, but it fits the bill perfectly. Told entirely from the hero’s point of view, Something Like Normal is the story of a boy who joined the Marines on an impulse that had nothing to do with maturity, and everything to do with recklessness. He was deeply changed by the war and the people he met there—it made him grow and become a man, but also gave him a set of ghosts to battle with. The setting and the main conflict is different, but just like Easy, the story is about a person finding himself, learning how to take responsibility and transitioning from childhood to adulthood.
Defining a new genre is difficult because the boundaries haven’t been properly established. If you were to ask me about the differences between Romance and New Adult, or Young Adult and New Adult, it would be hard for me to come up with a clearer definition than what I’ve said so far. I think that New Adult is a sub-genre that is comfortable with both YA and Romance, but too narrow to be independent. So far all I’ve seen are contemporary stories, and it would seem like there’s no room for more diversity. But is that enough to keep it going?
We know that popularity is fleeting, and it takes more than that to endure a long-term relationship with the readers. New Adult could go away just as fast and unexpectedly as it arrived, but so far it seems to be growing stronger. Personally, I hope it succeeds, because these are stories that no one was telling, but also because it functions as a bridge between Romance and YA. Whether it’s here to stay or about to disappear, only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the ride, and I’m sure Romance readers will too.
If you want to give New Adult a try, but don’t know where to start, other books I recommend are: Where She Went by Gayle Forman (the prequel, If I Stay, reads more like a YA, but it was just as good), Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols and Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar. They each deal with different issues and have unique main characters, but all of the stories are interesting and very emotional.
Have you read a New Adult book yet?