Here’s the thing about New Adult books: to a one, they are hideously depressing and full of so much drama you could pour all of those words into a soap opera and have enough material to last you several years. Possibly more than several.
Actually, that’s not true. There are a few NA books that I’ve come across (though I haven’t yet read them) that do not have a romantic theme as their main ingredient. After the books I’ve read so far, I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading those books.
But my initial impression isn’t so far from the truth. If you read the blurbs for these books, you’ll find abuse, shady pasts, massive secrets with the ability to tear people apart or bring them closer together, addiction, anger, depression, and tons of heartbreak of several varieties. You’ll also find bad boys with hearts of gold, tattoos, piercings, rocker boys, and more tattoos.
Most of the time when I’m reading I’m able to turn off the writer and just read the damn book (although yes, writer me does make the occasional appearance). I couldn’t do that with this first book, White Trash Beautiful by Teresa Mummert. Cass knows what she is and knows what the rest of her life is going to be like. She lives in a trailer park and supports her drug addled mom and abusive boyfriend by working at a truck stop diner; there’s no escaping for her. Along comes Tucker (cue the bad boy rocker with the heart of gold) and she’s swept off her feet. The problems with this book start on page one and don’t let up until the end. Exposition, repetition, and a far too perfect hero made for a very dull read. Originally self-published, this was a story that had it been given time and a few more rewrites could have been a good book, but the publisher rushed it into publication instead. Mummert’s depiction of a girl trapped in an abusive relationship had echoes of realism, and Cass’s matter of fact approach to Tucker’s initial overtures were kind of refreshing. But the prose just couldn’t stand up under the weight of the story, and after two chapters, I didn’t care what happened on the next page. I got about 80% through it and skimmed the rest.
Next up was Denise Grover Swank’s After Math, the story of introverted math major Scarlett and soccer star playboy Tucker (another Tucker!) Tucker needs tutoring in order to remain eligible to play, and Scarlett gets roped into being his tutor. As the two spend time together, Tucker lets his guard down, and Scarlett sees the troubled man inside. While I enjoyed Scarlett (she has social anxiety and tries to keep it in check) and the fact that she’s a math major, I had biiiiig problems with Tucker. I mean, c’mon. Men do not cry nearly as much as he did. Seriously. I’ve read books where the heroine cried as much as he did. That issue made it hard for me to believe him as an alpha hero.
The only thing I’m going to say about H.M. Ward’s Damaged was while the dialog was good, this was another instance of not being able to shut off my internal writer. Too. Many. Filters. I feel my pulse racing. (Speaking of which, Sidney’s pulse races quite a bit.) The back cover blurb is misleading, as well, because it was far darker and more depressing than I’d been led to believe. I had similar problems with Escaping Reality by Lisa Renee Jones; while filters weren’t the problem, the narrative was. The lack of contractions combined with first person present tense made what could have been a fast-paced thriller (Amy’s on the run, and we aren’t told why, and Liam, the mysterious man she meets on the plane as she escapes New York, decides to protect her) was by turns flat and frustrating. All we know is Amy’s life was turned upside down at some point and she’s been in hiding ever since. I couldn’t finish it – Liam’s inexplicable need to go all protective alpha-male on a woman he’s just met was too much for me to swallow.
So did I read anything worth recommending? Surprisingly, I did.
Before Now, by Cheryl McIntyre, was a pleasant surprise. Park’s still hurt and angry over losing the only girl he’s ever loved to another man, and he’s spent the last year drowning himself in booze and casual sex. His roommate tells him to stay away from Lucy, which only makes him more intrigued. Lucy, for her part, is definitely attracted to him, but if he’s not willing to defy orders, she’ll settle for being his friend. The description of this book had me thinking Lucy would be sweet and a little on the too stupid to live side, but this girl’s got a backbone, and she’s not afraid to use it. The conversations between Lucy and her best friend are fun, witty, and completely realistic, and the chemistry between Park and Lucy was strong without being desperate. Well, sort of. Their relationship did edge over the obsessive line a little, but not enough to put me off. And while Park’s seriously messed up, Lucy was issue free, which was, oh my god, SO DAMN REFRESHING to read about. A character who doesn’t have a tormented, twisted past or depressing secret waiting to rip someone a new one? SRSLY?! It exists! And it’s in this book! The last quarter of the book was a little ridiculous, but again, not enough to keep me from finishing. I may not read the next one, but McIntyre does have another book planned using characters introduced here, and I do think I’ll pick that one up. The other really nice thing? While it’s the second in the series, I didn’t feel lost for not having read the first one.
Chelsea M. Cameron’s My Favorite Mistake was a fun, fluffy read that I actually recommended to a friend of mine after I finished it. On Moving Day, Taylor opens the door to her campus apartment to find her new roommate standing in the hall. Only problem? Hunter is male. Very, very male. When she throws a fit, he makes her a deal: if she can prove she either loves him or hates him, he’ll move out by the end of the semester. While Taylor’s anger got on my nerves in the first few chapters, I loved seeing how she and Hunter would try to one-up each other in their efforts to get under the others’ skin. Hunter, for his part, did take a few steps into too perfect territory, but the way their relationship developed gradually and didn’t make light of the hurdles they threw at each other won me over. I was actually disappointed when the story ended; I wasn’t ready to be done!
Bully by Penelope Douglas was, despite the rather judicious use of exclamation points and ellipses, a great spin on the whole enemies-to-lovers trope. While I’m not sure I’d necessarily classify this as New Adult (the characters, while they turn 18 in the book, are in their senior year in high school) that didn’t stop me from finishing the book in one sitting. Tate and Jared were the best of friends up until three years ago. When Jared returned from spending a few weeks with his father, he set out to do everything he could to push Tate away, bullying her, spreading rumors, pulling pranks. To escape, she spends her junior year in France, and when she comes back, she’s determined not to let Jared ruin her last year of high school. You’d think the bullying is the result of Jared being attracted to her, but despite her attraction to him, he only looks at her with hatred and disgust. I mean, the guy literally tells her at one point he wouldn’t care if she were dead or alive. Douglas is pulling a Jamie Maguire and telling the same story from Jared’s point of view in Until You, out in November, and while normally I’d be kind of leery of something like that, I’m making an exception. I want to get inside Jared’s head. I’m sure it’s completely and utterly messed up.
If I were to pick a book to hold up as an example of how you should go about self-publishing your book, I’d choose Katy Evan’s Real. Well-written, with fully developed characters and enough strings left undone to make you want to read the next book yet satisfying enough you don’t have to, there’s a lot to like about this book. Brooke’s been forced to put aside her Olympic dreams after not one, but two career ending injuries. She goes to school, gets her degree, and starts working as a physical therapist. Remington Tate’s the king of the violent underground fighting world, trying to fight his way back to legitimacy. As his trainer, Brooke’s required to touch him on a regular basis. It’d be an understatement for me to say it’s hard for her to do, because from the moment they lock eyes, she wants him. And he wants her. And this, ultimately, is my problem with this book. Brooke is such a strong woman in so many ways, but the way she just absolutely falls apart for Remy drove me nuts. Their relationship, once it finally happened (major plus to Brooke for maintaining her professionalism for as long as she did) came close to the Eva and Gideon level of obsession. We’re talking majorly unhealthy, and it bothered me more than a little. This is the first book in recent memory that despite everything good about it, I can’t bring myself to recommend it. The central relationship is just too much, which is a shame, because like I said, everything else? Pretty damn good.
There you have it. I’ve got quite a few more to go. I’m probably asking too much to have at least one be made up of characters without angsty broken backgrounds, but I can hope, right?