Philosophically speaking, I’m anti-New Adult fiction. I’m quite fine with Young Adult fiction, and over the years as a PW reviewer have read many a coming-of-age novel, but I’m genuinely annoyed by the notion of a genre of fiction for 18-26 year olds. What’s next? Not-Quite-New-Adult fiction, for the 27-30 set? How about Fiction for 30-Somethings, Unmarried Fiction, Menopausal Fiction, or...better still, Men in Midlife Crisis Fiction? Isn’t it bad enough that just the other week Wikipedia started removing women novelists from its list of American Novelists onto a separate list for American Women Novelists?
With New Adult Fiction, though, my grouchiness goes deeper. Blame it on All That, a variety show on Nickelodeon when my daughter was young. It aired on Saturday evenings, featuring comedy sketches and musical guests, supposedly in the tradition of SNL. If by “in the tradition of” you mean it was on television and it was on Saturday nights, then yes. If you mean anything else...well, then...no.
By the time my daughter started to watch All That, my husband and I had already spent far too much time watching Rugrats, Spongebob, Catdog, The Angry Beavers, and [my personal favorite] Rocko’s Modern Life. Anyone who grew up watching cartoons knows there’s generally something for everybody in them, regardless of your age, which is why as a family of three we could all survive the many, many re-runs. It’s why The Simpsons continues after more than 25 years on television. Unfortunately, All That was written specifically for your (and my) little kid at their most obnoxious, with no redeeming anything for anyone older than, say, ten years of age.
Call me cranky, but when I was about the same age, I watched The Carol Burnett Show and even Laugh-In with my family. Burnett’s genius was that even if I didn’t yet understand all the comedy, I still cracked up weekly over a crazy costume or a ridiculous character—all of which All That tried to emulate—or just Carol doing her Tarzan yell during the opening Q&A. As for Laugh-In, watching Lilly Tomlin as a snarky telephone operator was guaranteed fun for all ages circa 1970. So was Ruth Buzzi as Gladys Ormphby, a little old lady sitting on a park bench smacking horny old man Tyrone F. Horneigh (played by Artie Johnson) with her purse for being fresh.
My hatred of All That, and the reason I’m anti-New Adult Fiction—those who watched the TV show are now the age NA Fiction targets—is that it helped to create a demographic that would be ruthlessly marketed to by advertisers. Pretending that kids were small adults to be catered to as though they were adults set up in them a sense of entitlement that continued as these kids grew up. Perversely, the same thing responsible for our kids growing up too soon is also now partly to blame for the delay of adulthood.
But there’s something else. In all the initial articles I read about New Adult Fiction, eroticism and Fifty Shades of Grey were always mentioned, which struck me as incredibly sad. After having looked at some of the more popular New Adult books, I can’t honestly see the Fifty Shades connection, but let’s use the articles’ references. When you’re 21, isn’t the sex still new enough that you don’t need BDSM? Back in the day, vanilla sex was all we needed. After all, unlike being gay, which is innate, a person isn’t born a Dominant or a Submissive; discovering you need true kink in your life must come after years of experimentation.
I actually posed the “isn’t the sex still new enough” question to my 21-year-old daughter last week...rather an odd question for a mother to ask her daughter, but we have an unusual relationship and have learned to talk theoretically about such things without particularly personalizing them. Her response surprised and enlightened me. Initially she didn’t understand what I meant—was I talking about feathers and scarves? That brought a smile to my face because if for her kinky stuff is a feather and a scarf, I can relax in the knowledge that her boyfriend doesn’t own a flogger.
When I told her that no, by kinky I meant really kinky, she said I shouldn’t compare my 21 to her 21 because of the Internet. Today 21-year-olds are indeed exposed to so much more sexual content that I actually didn’t even know what whips and chains were at her age, while she does. And then she said this: “Mom, maybe people my age, sexually active for perhaps a few to just several years, are doing kinky stuff because the sex is so bad.”
Hmmm...that kinda sorta fit what I learned from reading Donna Freitas’s The End of Sex. Freitas’ book is a sociological study about the very same hookup culture my daughter entered when she started college. It’s a fascinating, albeit incredibly depressing, book but according to my daughter, fairly accurate for many college students. Never before have I been so grateful that my daughter has already been through three college relationships, all of which ended badly, because when you’re in a relationship, the hookups end. Rather than boy meets girl, boy and girl go steady, boy and girl have sex, in hookup culture it’s like this: Boy and girl hook up, boy and girl hook up some more, and as a result of serial hookups, boy and girl go steady.
According to Freitas, there’s so much pressure on college kids to hook up that they do it. Among the rules are no personal connections and a lack of emotionality. Unsurprisingly, a hallmark of hookups is really bad sex, particularly for the girls, who (also unsurprisingly) end up as givers rather than takers.
Much as I’d like to, I can’t blame hooking up on All That. But I still hold it responsible for New Adult Fiction.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on herMy Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads(where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on@laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.