Tue
Jan 29 2013 8:14am

How New is Too New: Young Characters in Romantic Fiction

The New Adult genre is currently blowing up with readers, and—as you might guess by the genre name—it usually has early 20s age characters as its protagonists.

If you're a longtime romance reader, is it disconcerting to read about characters who are substantially younger than you? Or, conversely, if you are relatively young, is it odd to read about characters who are older?

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12 comments
megan e
1. megan e
I have to relate to a character. I think it's a test on how great an author is if they can make me relate to a character that is completely different than me. I'm a 30-year-old woman. If an author can make me relate to a 16-year-old boy or a 50-year-old man, then I'm impressed.

But sometimes, it's just not there. I don't typically read YA, because I just have a hard time relating to high school right now. However, I LOVE New Adult (and write it, in fact) and I can still relate to early 20s characters who are just finding themselves.

Going by your graphic, I did have a hard time relating to A Beautiful Disaster. Mainly because I really felt that those characters had the maturity level of high schools and were masquerading as college kids.

One book that I loved was The Sea of Tranquility. They were high school students, but yet the author wrote them so well, and really got into their minds, that I completely related to them.
Shiloh Walker
2. shiloh_walker
I'll be honest... the only NA book that has caught my interest is enough to consider buying is EASY by Tammara Webber.

It could be because I've got a daughter who is hitting that YA phase-getting ready to start high school, etc... but I don't want read about the YA/NA adult angst. I went through that personally, I'm going through it now with my daughter. I do not need to read it for pleasure. (I couldn't read it for pleasure.)

Give me the adult romances please or my UFs. I'm happy with that.
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
@Shiloh, seeing a recent tweet of yours flow by on the tweetstream inspired my thinking on this post, so thanks for the comment!
Megan Frampton
4. MFrampton
@megan e--I agree, if an author is good enough, I'll buy whatever she's selling, even if it's twentysomething behavior.
Chanpreet Singh
5. chanpreet
I loved Beautiful Disaster. It was just so well written and really pulled me in. I've re-read many times since.

For me, it's not about the ages. I can still relate to people in high school and college, and I also have no problem relating to characters who are older, say in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

For me, it's all about the story, and I have to agree with MFrampton, if one of my favorite authors has written something, I'll read it irregardless of what age the character is or what genre.

And thanks to Goodreads, I've discovered a plethora of new authors!
megan e
6. Stephanie Scott
I don't mind reading books where the protagonist is older or younger than me (I'm 30-something). I enjoy reading YA and NA, but I will agree that the characters need to be well-written. I just wrapped up reading Beautiful Disaster and I loved it. I could relate to the heroine and the back and forth when a love (especially at that age) seems so intense and soul shattering.

@Shiloh - you MUST read Easy. Hands down my favorite book of 2012.

I think I'm excited to see what NA will have to offer. Most of what I've read has been contemporary, so I'm interested to see how it will branch out to include paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.
Alexandra W
7. parasolprotectorate
I'm 20, in my second year of university and have been reading romance for 5-6 years. I love that romance books typically feature older characters, but at the same time I like to read YA too. The only NA I've read is Beautiful Disaster and while I mostly enjoyed the book, I agree with @megan e who said that the maturity level of the characters was more like that of high school characters. I think I'd have to read a lot more NA before I can make my mind up about whether I like that the protagonists are my age.
megan e
8. Tina@bookcrack
@shiloh, @meganf and @megan-e: Great topic!

It's funny that 'angst' comes up because that is a main reason why I avoided the new adult genre initially. For the most part, I've been really lucky to happen upon authors who have captured what I like in a young hero and they've tended to leave the immature as$hat boyfriend behavior by the wayside. In fact, the heroes in two of my faves- Lucas in Tammara Webber's Easy and Will Cooper in the Slammed books by Colleen Hoover are much more grounded than most 30-year-old men I know!

Beautiful Disaster's Travis Maddox is a poster boy for 'angst' but I think some of the best NA books out there right now are doing what you said @megan-e, making us care about the characters even if the hero is angsty or acts like he's stepped out of Fight Club and I'm with @shiloh...kinda far too close to my teenagers' ages than I'd like in real life lol. I'm still on the hook and love 'em.
megan e
9. Janga
I subscribe to Madeleine L'Engle's belief that “The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.” I have always read some YA novels and will probably still do so when I'm reduced to rocking on a nursing home porch. Tammara Webber's books are the only NA books I've read so far. I thought they were excellent, and I certainly don't rule out reading others.

Years ago in an adolescent literature course, class members decided that there were YA books that targeted a particular age group and books with young adult characters whose stories spoke to the human condition. The latter, they agreed, were larger than any labels attached to them. I suspect there is still truth in that distinction.
megan e
10. KathyBB
Until about a month ago, I had never read a YA or NA book. I thought I would never be able to relate to characters so much younger than myself. And then I read "Beautiful Disaster" (OK, I was technically harangued into reading it by a friend so I was ambivalent to say the least when I started it). I just fell in love with with this book. Now I've read "Easy", "Slammed", "Point of Retreat", "Crash", "Clash" and a few others that are now on my keeper shelf.

So I have had to eat my hat so to speak. If the story is good and the characters are interesting and credible and I care what happens to them, it doesn't matter to me any more what the age of character is. A good book is a good book etc.
megan e
11. megan e
I still need to see a certain level of maturity, personally, in my NA fiction. I don't want high school drama among 20-year-olds. I don't want YA but with sex.

I want to see characters at that pivotal point in their lives where they are trying to find out who they are going to be as adults. REAL adults. Adults with jobs and careers and relationships. What do they actually want out of life?

I think there are some books right now that are labeled NA, but aren't NA to me. I did love Colleen Hoover's Slammed series. I thought it was interesting because her male MC really had to decide what kind of MAN he was going to be. I need more in my NA books than post-high-school relationship drama.

So anyway, that's just my opinion. :)
megan e
12. Isabel C.
I don't mind characters who are a lot older or younger, but I do often find it hard to suspend my disbelief in romances where the characters are younger than mid-twenties. Historical or paranormal elements can help here, and I know that there *are* people who are totally happy with their high school sweethearts--my own grandparents got married around 21, and are wildly in love something like sixty years later--but...

...especially for the high school/college stuff, I keep thinking of the post-Molly-Ringwald-intervention monologue in "Not Another Teen Movie." Yeah, it's great that you got together on the last day of school, and you'll have the summer, but...yeah, by winter break freshman year of college, you'll be having the it's-not-you-it's-me talk. And college isn't as dramatic, but still: odds are the Great Tragic Relationship of sophomore year will be the So, There Was This Guy hilarious story of drunken hookups, drunken crying, and *extremely* drunken kareoke when you're twenty-five.

Makes it tough to be really swept away by the romance; also makes it tough to be really sympathetic to problems with said romance.
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