What do you think of when you hear new adult fiction? As a reader or even as a writer you may be thinking of the latest titles in adult fiction. If you searched your local library or bookshop you would find a Children’s section, a Young Adult (or teen) section and an Adult section – but it’s unlikely that you will find a New Adult section. What makes it more confusing is that the New Adult category (targeting say 18-25 year olds) is sometimes called mature Young Adult (generally targeting the upper end of 12-18 age bracket) and “new” doesn't seem to be a natural progression of “young.”
Yet New Adult is very much the topic of the moment. A Google search comes up with some 61,300,000 entries – with most written in the last year or two. One Good Reads shelf lists 2,440 titles (most published since 2011).
In 2009 St Martin Press coined the word as part of a competition soliciting novels aimed the 18-25 year old demographic. In other words, aimed at college-aged teens to twenties who are in transition between being under parental authority to becoming fully independent and responsible adults. However, the category (it’s not strictly a genre) didn't take off until 2012 with the breakaway success of self-publishing authors writing for the New Adult market as well successfully published fan fiction. Arguably, E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey fits into this category as a published Twilight fan-fic with 21 year old college student, Anna Steel, as heroine and “emotionally damaged” hero, Christian Grey.
New Adult fiction has received a barrage of criticism – as being “smut” fiction or condescending to twenty-something adults (as though they need training wheels) or as a blatant marketing gimmick to sell books to a now grown-up generation hooked on reading by Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games. To some extent New Adult fiction can be compared to Young Adult fiction on steroids. It keeps it’s pacey, emotional tone but is likely to contain (more) explicit sex, violence, darker themes, alcohol, drugs, mental illness, suicide, bad language. The majority of New Adult books are contemporary romances whose protagonists often have a complicated past as titles like Easy, Beautiful Disaster, Hopeless and Slammed might suggest.
But before we dismiss New Adult as Shades of Grey wannabees, I think we need to look beyond the stereotypes. Not all New Adult romances major on explicit sex and New Adult is increasingly embracing other genres such as fantasy, thrillers or crossovers. Moreover New Adult focuses on important "Coming of Age" themes. Many readers in their twenties identity the need for fiction with protagonists their age and dealing with the situations they face in everyday life – in particular the transitions from teenager to adulthood – from parental control to new freedoms, from school to uni or the workplace. It encompasses firsts like leaving home, getting the first job, moving towards marriage and parenthood. These are important themes for readers and authors.
New Adult provides Christian authors with new possibilities while avoiding some low points – or maybe it gives a name for what some authors are already writing – as for example with Paula Vince’s books or maybe the Rose Dee’s Resolution series.
For readers it provides books with the pace and emotion of Young Adult fiction (which many adults also enjoy) which may explore deeper themes, with more complex plots and older protagonists.
The New Adult category is currently in a state of flux – what happens in the next few years will no doubt shape it's future - for better or worse. We can be part of that process.
Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology. She is currently caring for her children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her YA/NA Akrad fantasy series. She is actively involved in a caring Christian community.You can find her at http://jennysthread.com and http://www.facebook.com/JeanetteOHaganAuthorAndSpeaker
If you wish to explore New Adult further – here are some resources I found helpful:
* Good Reads New Adult Fiction Shelf http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/new-adult-fiction
* Jane Litte. (July 24 2012) If you Like New Adult Books in Dear Author, http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/if-you-like-new-adult-books/
* What is New Adult in NA Alley, http://www.naalley.com/p/about.html
* Karen J. Ohlson (February 25, 2013) Why I Didn't Toss Out Fifty Shades of Grey in Talking Writing, http://talkingwriting.com/why-i-didnt-toss-out-fifty-shades-of-grey
* Lauren Sarner, (08/14/2013) The Problem With New Adult Books in The Blog http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-sarner/the-problem-with-new-adul_b_3755165.html
* Ashley Strickland (October 16, 2013) A brief history of young adult literature in CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/15/living/young-adult-fiction-evolution/
* Molly Wetta (February 24, 2013) So, This Whole “New Adult” Thing: Part One in Wrapped Up in Books, http://wrappedupinbooks.org/2013/02/24/so-this-whole-new-adult-thing-part-one-2/