The post-50 Shades of Grey world resulted in an explosion of billionaires in erotic romance who gave a sexual education to a relative ingénue, and whether that ingénue was sexually innocent or emotionally remote depended on the author. We most often talk about a post-50 Shades world in terms of its impact on erotica (and the mainstreaming of erotica), and tend to gloss over the impact it had on a genre it almost single-handedly created: New Adult.
The term New Adult still offers a huge grey area for readers and industry professionals. As it stands, the genre focuses on men and women in their early to mid-twenties facing a pivotal moment in their development into adulthood. Many times these books focus around an issue. The formula for “what is New Adult” essentially breaks down into Age+Issue=New Adult.
Another way to think of it, is in Adult Romance, a hero or heroine might be damaged or emotionally-scarred, but they have some distance from it. New Adult focuses on the time when the emotional wounds were first dealt—essentially, Adult heroes and heroines are what the New Adult characters grow up to be. This Issue/wound can be anything, but often involves the hero or heroine being forced to accelerate their maturation.
For example, in Tammara Webber’s Easy, our heroine recently broke up with her boyfriend when a boy at a party attempts to rape her. Luckily, our bad-boy hero saves her, but she’s forever changed by this experience since no one believes she was actually attacked. It’s a moving piece and indicative of this emerging genre.
New Adult has given us some great authors that I sincerely cherish among my collection—Samantha Young, Cora Carmack, and Christina Lauren, along with Webber, to name a few. But it is generally agreed upon across the genre that in order for New Adult to stick around for the long term, it needs to mature—as much as its characters do in the course of a book.
Other authors have taken a different route. While New Adult first started as Age+Issue, it’s now more about Age+Defining Moment/Experience. The characters don’t necessarily have to be emotionally scarred, as we saw in the beginning with New Adult, but they have to be thrust into a circumstance in which they fundamentally change—whether that’s opening themselves emotionally, losing their virginity, or meeting someone who challenges their sense of self.
Samantha Young, in my opinion, catapulted New Adult into the spotlight and is one of the best examples in the genre. Her first book, On Dublin Street, gave us the formula now familiar to us all. Our heroine, Joss, is an emotionally-broken American who came to Edinburgh to escape her dark past. Enter Braden, a smoking hot CEO. They have one of my favorite meet-cutes (though a meet-hot would be more accurate), and their subsequent meetings build tension and could practically scorch my eyeballs off. While this book has depth, true emotion and scorching sex, the series only gets better.
The most recent addition, Before Jamaica Lane, is quite possibly my favorite in the series and one of my favorites of the year. Why? It takes all of the things I love about New Adult—exploring sexuality, finding yourself, etc.—and, well, matures them. In Jamaica Lane, we have Olivia and Nate, both of whom we met in the previous book. Olivia is sexually inexperienced and desperately wanting to change that status. Since we met Olivia and Nate in Down London Road, they have become best of friends. From the reader’s-eye-view, they are essentially a couple. A fact both Nate and Olivia are blissfully unaware of. They spend many of their nights together, eating Chinese food, and discussing their life and watching movies. Things shift though, when Nate becomes Olivia’s love tutor, and soon enough her lover. Taking their relationship to the next level obviously changes it. The changes are indicative to any New Adult couple, however it’s done without any of the angst that has become indicative of the genre.
This note should go as much to New Adult writers, as it does to readers: Don’t confuse “real emotion” with “angst.” Twilight is angsty, teens are angsty. I, as a 25-year-old (and therefore the perfect (if a bit high) age for a New Adult character), am occasionally angsty, but I like myself least when I am like that. People don’t like angst. Not for the long-term.
You can have real emotions and high drama without the angst. Angst can sometimes also be confused with conflict. That if a character is going back and forth about an issue, then it is conflict when actually it comes off as angst-ridden #FirstWorldProblems. The authors who have succeeded in the genre have stepped away from the first conception that New Adult must be angsty, a conception that I believe first caused people to label New Adult as just Young Adult with Sex. Young’s Down London Road had the opportunity to be one of the more angst-ridden books in the series, however it was anchored in very real issues, tackled those issues in a very serious manner, but didn’t take itself too seriously. It was the perfect transition to the more mature tone of Young’s third book, Jamaica Lane.
Other authors have successfully made the transition, too. Christina Lauren, the writing duo and product of post-Twilight fan-fiction, came to us with Beautiful Bastard, your typical billionaire meets sex-kitten (and I mean this the best way possible). The following book gave us one-night stands and stranger-sex, until finally we get to the third full book in the series, Beautiful Player, and it was beautiful. Maybe I just love a great friends to lovers story, maybe Christina Lauren matured as writers, maybe I matured as a reader, but from the second I picked up Beautiful Player, I couldn’t put it down. When Hanna Bergstrom and Will Sumner get together it’s a slow burn and none of the angst that littered the first books is present in this one. The characters were older, more mature, and their story didn’t make me love the earlier books less, but made me love the later books more.
The biggest complaint people have about New Adult lies in the angst. The sex is hot, but the problems are too dark, the tone too melodramatic, perhaps like their characters. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for books like these, I’m not saying I wouldn’t read these books like they were my favorite drug and I was a willing addict. What I am saying is that for the genre to grow, and become more accessible (and therefore have longevity), it needs to mature as much as it characters do.
The authors I have mentioned have done that flawlessly. For those of you who were unsure of New Adult, try some of these queens’ later books. Give it a try, come on, I dare you.
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers.