Why New Adult Needs to Become a Thing

New Adult, in theory, is an age category of books aimed at 18-25-year-olds, featuring college-aged protagonists. NA books have the same fast-paced narrative style as YA, but since the target audience is older, there's room for darker themes and more graphic sex and violence (though this is by no means a requirement). Crucially, NA books explore the stage of life that comes after adolescence: working out how to survive on your own as a fully-functioning adult.

For a brief, shining moment back in 2014, it looked like New Adult was going to become a proper category in and of itself, with entries spanning all genres from fantasy to contemporary. And then it collapsed, and New Adult was relegated to a subcategory of the Romance genre that basically just featured college kids getting it on.

For all intents and purposes, in 2019, New Adult as a category is dead. However, I believe it's time to resurrect the beast and make an age category for 18-25-year-olds a reality, whether we actually call it New Adult or not. The argument is many-faceted, so I'm going to divide this post into a few subheadings and explore each one.

Premise 1: Adults are pushing teens out of YA

The people who are currently in the 18-25 age range are the people who were in their teens when YA first had its huge explosion. I'm one of those people. My generation discovered that we didn't have to choose between easy kids' books and unrelatable adult books -- we could have books featuring people like us, going through the same struggles as us. Along the way, we developed a taste for fast-paced coming-of-age narratives with innovative concepts and heapings of diversity (YA, it must be noted, is miles ahead of the Adult age category in terms of representation for marginalized people).

So when we grew up, a lot of us didn't leave YA behind and start reading only Adult books. We kept on being huge consumers of YA.

It must be noted that it is NOT A BAD THING for adults to enjoy reading YA. As mentioned before, YA has a heck of a lot more diversity than Adult fiction, and many YA books are extremely sophisticated. It's no wonder that people who aren't teens anymore still enjoy them so much.

Here's the problem: publishing is a business, and publishing houses buy the books that will earn them the most money. Adult readers of YA have way more buying power than actual teens who read YA. As a result, I believe that in recent years, the YA category has become geared more toward adults, with main characters who act increasingly mature despite being (supposedly) 16 or 17. This means that actual teens get left behind.

For me, the Caraval series was one of these books with overly-mature teen characters. Scarlett (aged 17) is engaged, for Pete's sake. In the end, I straight-up pretended that Scarlett and Tella were 21 and 20 so I didn't feel so weird reading it.

In short, the YA category is bulging at the seams trying to accommodate two different age ranges of people. By creating an NA category, we could split that age range in two, allowing twenty-somethings to read the kinds of fast-paced books they love without accidentally hijacking teenagers' reading space. Of course, adults wouldn't be banned from reading YA by any means, but I think the pressure on the YA category would naturally be lessened if NA could share the load.

(Incidentally, this would likely open up room for "younger" YA featuring 13-15-year-old protagonists, which is something that teens need but adults aren't interested in. If the YA category didn't have to cater to adults anymore, it would be a lot easier to find room for those books. But I digress.)

Premise 2: Adulthood isn't a monolith

YA aside, we have to think about the reasoning behind creating a whole new age category for twenty-somethings. A lot of people have reservations about chopping up the Adult category like this. Where does it end? Will we end up categorizing books by the freaking decade?

Fact is, the stages of a person's life look way different today than they did 100 years ago. It used to be that "teenager" wasn't even a concept -- once you hit your teen years, you were in the workforce. And yet, over the past century, the teenage years have become a completely separate stage of life, a demographic to be marketed to and stereotyped and celebrated. No wonder YA fiction as a category has gotten so big.

By the same token, I would argue that, thanks to the rise of higher education, one's late teens/early twenties has become another stage of life in and of itself. Sure, not everyone goes to college, but college students make up a huge slice of the population. Nowadays, it's the norm to hold off hitting the workforce until 22, or even later if you pursue a graduate degree. Even for those who don't go to college, there's still a huge transition from being mostly supported by your parents to living on your own and learning to be a "real" adult. Heck, in the US you can't legally drink till 21, and you're not allowed to rent a car until you're 25.

So to those who say that creating a New Adult category would mean treating those in their twenties as less than adults, I say: look around. We as a society already are. And that's not necessarily a bad thing -- I, for one, appreciate being able to ease into adulthood instead of being booted out at 18 to fend for myself. My point is, the 18-25 age group comes with a set of experiences and worries and expectations that are completely separate from those of teens and older adults.

In my experience, the vast majority of Adult books feature protagonists in their 30s or older. Most 18-25-year-olds simply can't relate to the struggles of a divorced mom of three. At least we can sort of relate to YA protagonists, because we were teenagers pretty recently. Nevertheless, I believe people my age are craving books that we can fully relate to, featuring characters who face the same struggles we do.

Premise 3: A separate age category is the answer

At this point, a lot of people may be thinking, "Right, so, we need books for 18-25-year-olds. But why do we need a whole separate age category?"

My simple answer is that the point of age categories is to help people easily find books for the desired age range. With a New Adult category, people my age will easily be able to locate books for themselves without having to scour the internet for the exact type of story they want within the vast sea of Adult and YA books.

A more practical reason is that without an NA category, would-be NA books have to choose between being classified as YA or Adult. And that can lead to some awkward situations. Take Sarah J. Maas's books, for example. Her A Court of Thorns and Roses fantasy series was marketed as YA, but any teens picking it up would be surprised to find that it features extremely graphic sex scenes. The main character is 19 (21 by the end of the series), placing her squarely in the age range for a New Adult protagonist, but I guess the industry decided it wasn't "Adult" enough to be classified as such. This is yet another piece of evidence that a separate age category is needed.

Conclusion

Today's twenty-somethings grew up on YA, and we crave the fast-paced, diverse stories characteristic of that category. My age demographic wants books like that, but with characters like us who we can relate to better. Creating a New Adult age category is the solution. NA is not "edgy YA," but it's not mainstream Adult either -- it's a beast all of its own, combining elements of YA and Adult while centering around a type of self-discovery unique to the modern college-aged person.

Since the term "New Adult" has been co-opted as a Romance subgenre, it may be that our new in-between age category will take on a different name -- but whatever it's called, we've needed it for a long time. And I believe that once it's established, it could rake in some serious cash (remember how I said earlier that adults have more buying power than teens?)

The readers are there. The writers are there. All we need now is for the publishing industry to give it a proper shot.

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