When I was a teenager, young adult fiction was a tiny, tiny market compared to today’s. Basically, it didn’t exist. There were the classics (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill A Mockingbird) and what seems like (to me, anyway) a handful of newer titles (Cheevey, Make Lemonade). So I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, the occasional literary fiction tome. My friends leaned toward the classics (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights), reading the unabridged versions of books we’d previously been assigned, and every so often, they’d delve into the adult world with books from the likes of Barbara Kingsolver.
College was more of the same, when we had the time to read something that wasn’t a textbook, although by this point, Harry Potter was becoming a thing, and we happily escaped into a world of simpler prose and wizards.
So the whole idea we needed a new category of books directed at college age and recent college graduate age struck me as more than a little ridiculous.
I admit it. When I first heard about New Adult, I snort-laughed. I pooh-poohed it. Why on earth do this people need something I likely wouldn’t have read even if it were available when I was in college? I was living that life, thank you, and books are fantasies to escape with. I don’t need them to act as a mirror.
Not to mention Meredith Barnes’ excellent point on New Adult as a category (the post is a bit old, as NA has put down roots, but the point is still a valid one).
But as my brain likes to do, it got to thinking about the generational differences between me and the protagonists in this category. I think part of why I had such a hard time wrapping my head around it was because while they may only be ten or so years younger, they’re light years away from me.
I never really considered the age gap. I work with people ten, fifteen years older than me and they get my cultural references. Someone just graduating from college? They would have been ten when Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. I was a teenager when AOL was the big thing in internet and email. Today, AOL is bordering on archaic. Life changed much faster for people who are even just five years younger than me, and I’d naively assumed things were mostly the same.
They grew up with young adult novels. Sure, some of them may have made the jump to the classics, to adult genre fiction, to literary fiction. But a good many of them waited anxiously for the next book in the Hunger Games trilogy to be released, or for the next version of the iPod. They were MySpacing back when it was cool, texting like mad and growing up with teen series like Smallville and The OC (also, could someone please bring back Gilmore Girls? I miss that show like burning.)
So it would make sense to them they need some sort of transitional category to ease them into the wilds of adult fiction. Just because I don’t necessarily agree doesn’t mean I should write off the category as trying to make “fetch” happen.
Jane Litte, of Dear Author, has this handy little graphic that succinctly explains the New Adult category – and yes, it is a category, not a genre, like Young Adult is a category and not a genre:
Put that way, it makes even more sense. The protagonists in Young Adult are, for the most part, still firmly under the authority of some adult figure. They don’t have the independence or means to support themselves. It also kind of makes Young Adult a misnomer, because the protagonists are all under the age of majority, for the most part.
I didn’t start reading romance until a few years ago, and before that, I looked down on the genre and its readers. I turned up my nose on romance because I was intelligent. I had a college degree and I read books that were thoughtful and thought provoking. And yes, I really was that snobby. But a coworker, one of the smartest people I know, loaned me a stack of paranormal and urban fantasy books, recommended a few others, and I was hooked. I was willing to be open minded and admit I was wrong, and now I read as much romance as I do literary fiction. Sometimes more, in any given month.
I’m willing to do the same with New Adult. Change my mind. Make me see it as a viable category. I won’t promise to eat my words, but I’ll certainly reconsider them.