Nov 20 2012 2:45pm

New Adult: What is it, and What Should I Do with it?

Something Like Normal by Trish DollerYoung 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.

Easy by Tammara WebberTammara 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?

Where She Went by Gayle FormanWe 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?


I love talking about books just as much as reading them. I review Romance Novels on my blog Romance Around the Corner and you can also find me on Twitter.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. JacquiC
I loved Easy. So good. I don't normally read YA, but I liked the tone of this book and the fact that it was about a slightly older age group (hence the NA designation, I guess)...
Tara Gelsomino
2. Taragel
Interestingly, while I did not really care for If I Stay, Where She Went was one of the best books I read last year.

That being said...didn't we just use to call this "fiction"? Seems like an unnecessary new subgenre label. And all of the self-published excerpts I read from the Galleycat article yesterday were pretty much chick lit: contemporary, first-person from a female POV, revolving around sex/romance. Made me think someone just decided (Carina Press, I guess? Are they the ones who coined New Adult?) we need a bigger market for college-aged heroines like the 50 Shades chick.
Brie Clementine
3. Brie.Clem
Taragel: I think more than fiction, this used to be called either YA or Contemporary Romance. But there was a lack of stories focused on college-aged characters and that’s what NA provides. As I said, the definition is too narrow to consider it a new genre. I think the popularity is proof that people wanted to read these stories, but let’s see how long it will last. It could get old fast because it is so narrow, and what’s going to happen when people get bored? I’m not sure NA has room for innovation.

I haven’t read all the books on the Galleycat article, but I think Slammed had a more YA feel to it, and that Loosing It is definitely NA, but not a very good one. Sex and romance are big part of it, but definitely not all. To be honest, judging a genre, sub-genre or whatever NA is, based on the two stories that became popular, is akin to judging Romance based on Fifty Shades of Grey. The books I mention on this post go beyond contemporary women whose lives revolve around sex and romance, one of them isn’t even about a woman.

And regarding the marketing stuff, it very well could be, except that the term was first coined before the success of Fifty Shades (by St. Martin’s Press, not Carina). But of course, one could argue that the success of Easy is what suddenly made publishers and authors (especially self-published authors) aware that there was a market there, and decided to exploit it. I’ve seen some books being labeled as NA that are just taking advantage of its popularity, but that was to be expected.

Even if we don’t understand or believe that a new label was necessary, there are great stories being told that maybe would have been told regardless, but now will get more exposure. I understand the cynicism and the wariness, especially after everything that’s been going on with Fifty Shades, but let’s give it time to see if it’s more than a one-hit wonder.
Brie Clementine
4. Brie.Clem
JaquiC: Yes, that's it. It's like a YA with characters that are a bit more mature, or it should be. I think at this point we're all a bit confused by the term NA.

I'm glad you enjoyed Easy!
Vanessa Ouadi
5. Lafka
I've read all the books you mentioned, except Raw Blue. I've enjoyed them, mostly because I feel I can bond with the characters more in NA than in traditional YA _ being 24 myself and out of college for 2 years only, their lives are closer to mine than a high-school student life for instance.

But I wasn't aware of reading new sub-genre novels at the time ^^ I still consider them YA, truth be told, because the line between the 2 is still a bit confused to me.

I assume Abbi Glines' books (the Vincent Brothers and Sea Breeze series) also fit in the description of NA : post-high-school characters, all around 20 of age, and more explicit situations than you would expect in YA novels. Same thing for Fisher Amelie's books.

But I wonder if Simone Elkeles' Paradise and Perfect Chemestry series are YA or NA. Her characters are attending high-school or just leaving it, yet they deal with issues (gangs, drunk driving...) that are more serious than simple teenager trouble. For such books, the border is blurry I believe.

And I think historical settings blur the line even more between YA and NA, given that the standards of reference are different than the one we have today _ no high-school at the time, and a 20 years-old was considered well into adulthood already. I have read recently an historical novel dealing with a 17 years-old heroine and a slightly older hero (19 perhaps, though I'm not sure) : Sarah MacLean's The Season. The age bracket would probably hint at YA, yet the hero is an earl and the heroine is out in society and on the marriage mart. They solve a mystery together and end getting married. That seems more NA than YA, don't you think?

To sum up, I believe the NA sub-genre has potential for success. It appeals to another category of readers, who are too old to really bond with teenage characters but not old enough to deal with adulthood issues (such as career evolution, founding a family, and so on). But I think the genre is only at its beginning and is still too hard to really identify and thus to be considered as existing in and for itself yet.
Brie Clementine
6. Brie.Clem
Lafka: It’s easier to relate to the stories, but also the characters are a bit more mature and it shows in the way the speak and act. Not all of them, of course, but when the characters come across as immature is more a reflection on the author than on New Adult.

Yep, I feel that NA fits better as a sub-genre of YA than as an independent genre. Honestly, NA adult stories existed before the term was coined, so I don’t blame people for thinking it’s unnecessary.

I haven’t read Abbi Glines’ books, well, I tried but it didn’t work for me. But just like not every book with main characters in their teens is YA, not every book with college-aged characters is NA, so those could be YA. I suspect she’s one of those authors taking advantage of the popularity of NA, but I’d have to finish the book before I form a better opinion.

Simone Elkeles I’d call YA, because as I said, I see NA as stories about transition and adapting to adulthood. Serious topics like sex, drugs and death touch everyone, so a book about it can be YA. Those characters were dealing with drugs and gangs, but it affected their life as teenagers, they were still in high school and had a different set of responsibilities. Actually, now that I think about it, Jennifer Echols’ book doesn’t fit my definition of NA.

Interesting that you mention historical settings, because that’s an example of why I the definition of NA is so narrow. No room for anything but contemporary stories. If you think about it, many historicals would be NA, at least if we go for age alone. I didn’t know the hero in that book was an Earl. Was he older than her? I haven’t read it but that’s supposed to be a YA. How was the tone of the story?

And I agree, we have to give it some time to see how it goes.
7. Shark with Lasers
This looks like a new marketing term for Chick Lit.
Brie Clementine
8. Brie.Clem
Shark with Lasers, I know I said this before, but Best. Name. Ever! LOL

There are some similarities with Chick-Lit, especially the finding yourself, transition, etc. But whereas Chick-Lit are often light and funny stories, NA is the opposite. Not all NA are about women, so that removes the Chick part (Something Like Normal is about a guy), and no one is obsessed with getting married, or finding love, and most of the stories focus on both leads, not all are told from 1st person POVs, etc. So no, I don't think it's a new marketing term for Chick Lit.
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