“New Adult” Fiction: Good thing or bad thing?

My response after hearing about this category for the first time was, “What’s regular Adult Fiction now? OLD Adult?” I figured it was just one of those fan-created terms that would go away after a brief period. Then this post by Random House publishing happened. Oops.

So I guess it’s actually a thing now.

The definition of New Adult fiction as stated on its Wikipedia page – “This category is intended to be marketed to post-adolescents and young-adults ages 14 to 35. This age group is considered to be the lucrative ‘cross-over’ category of young-adult titles that appeal to both the young-adult market and to an adult audience.[3] Publishers of young-adult fiction now favor this category as it encompasses a far broader audience.[4] The chief features that distinguish this category from Young-adult fiction are the perspective of the young antagonist and the scope of the antagonist’s life experience. Perspective is gained as childhood innocence fades and life experience is gained, which brings insight. It is this insight which is lacking in traditional young-adult fiction.”

I take issue with that last sentence. That insight is not lacking in YA. In fact, isn’t that insight and maturation process what’s supposed to differentiate YA from Juvenile/Kids’ Fiction? The difference in tone between Heroes of Olympus and Looking for Alaska is obvious to anyone who has read them. The characters in John Green’s books deal with a more complex set of problems than Rick Riordan’s characters do, because that’s the difference between Kids’ fiction and YA. Characters die in HoO, but Riordan doesn’t deal with the deep psychological ponderings of the meaning of life and the possibility of immortality in the same way that Green does. To say that YA doesn’t deal with increasing life experience and growing insight about the world is pure nonsense.

I recently read a book by Jennifer Armentrout called Obisidian. You can read my review of it here. Warning: It’s pseudo-tongue in cheek, contains some foul language, and is supplemented by a few lul-worthy GIFs. Anyway, about two-thirds of the way through this book, I realized what I was reading was New Adult. It made me feel weird… because the only difference between this book and any other YA romance was the sex. And that’s the only difference I can see between the two categories in general. Sex. Or at least more sex than could justifiably be gotten away with in YA.

So what are other people saying about NA? After a quick Google search, I find a budding community of new blogs and sites like these: New Adult Addiction, NA Alley, and NA Lit Chat.

This blogger describes NA as “Fifty Shades Meets Harry Potter.” *shudder* And the School Library Journal recently did a pretty extensive post on the definition of New Adult.

Personally, the existence of this category just outright annoys me. I mean, if you want to read a sexy book… there’s tons of adult romance out there to choose from. Basically what New Adult does is say, “Hey, you want textual pornography with little to no character complexity or development, with a dash of all the stereotypical YA tropes like angst and teenage disillusionment thrown in? Well, you’ve come to the right place, my friend!” The existence of this genre just encourages bad, lazy writing… Something which I think is already a big enough problem. I mean, what was the biggest selling book of 2012? (if not of all time?) Fifty frickin’ Shades. That empty-headed, talentless tripe racked up more sales in a month than Ray Bradbury ever made in his entire career. There is just something inherently wrong about that. And that is not the kind of writing we need to foster and encourage more of with categories like NA.

Sigh, this is making me angry. But, you know what? From a marketing standpoint, it makes TOTAL sense. Think about how many 20-somethings you know who read primarily YA fiction? Now they can have that same easy-reading feel, but with MOAR SEX! This genre is money in the bank for every major publisher.

So, I’ve said my piece. What do you guys think about New Adult? Love or hate it? Don’t care? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

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4 thoughts on ““New Adult” Fiction: Good thing or bad thing?

  1. Thought provoking post!
    I first encountered the term ‘New Adult’ about six months ago on Twitter. My intial reaction was similar to yours…so that makes adult fiction, what? Real (as opposed to assumed) Adult? …too presumptuous. Older Adult?.. too ‘Damn,I forgot where I put my glasses!’ or heaven forbid, Mature Adult. No. Just…no.
    But it was this internal dialogue that made me really start thinking. If my default reaction to the idea of an NA category is to redefine how I look at other categories and the content of those categories, maybe it has a bit of merit. Here’s why:
    Assuming you’re correct, and ‘NA’ is ‘YA with (insert drum roll) sex’, I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing. Teens have sex. Teens have a lot of sex. Yet we still live in a weirdly bifurcated culture in which teens are having a lot of sex, but their parents (i.e. the ‘older adult’ fiction crowd) are in blatant, abject denial about it. We live in a culture that still assumes it’s *normal* for teen males to desire sex, but their female counterparts are slut-shamed for the same thing. We live in a culture that sexualizes virtually everything, and magically expects (and assumes) its hormone fueled teen population remains abstinent. If the default assumption for NA is that it’s about young adults who OMG HAVE SEX. I’m kinda all for it.
    The funny thing is this: There is already YA fiction with sex. It may not be heavily detailed or graphic sex, but yeah..it’s still sex. The problem isn’t with the content so much as the overarching perception of the content. I want to slam my head in my desk whenever I encounter parents who think YA books either don’t have any type of sexual content, or shouldn’t have any kind of sexual content.
    -Whether more 20 somethings are reading NA is a moot point. Teens need to read about young adults having sex because they *are* young adults having sex, and those books need to be easy to find.
    -Adults need to know that teen sex is so commonplace that, by damn, there is a whole wildly popular (you know it will be) category of books that deal with YA themes + sex.
    -Fiction and literature, even horrible fiction *cough* FSoG *cough*, colors the cultural landscape, and our cultural landscape regarding perceptions of young adults and sex needs a systemic overhaul. We need to close the gap between assumption and reality, and if NA helps to accomplish that, bring it on.
    In closing, heartily agree with your take on YA fic NOT lacking insight. YA fic can be profoundly insightful!

  2. This is the first I’ve ever heard of ‘New Adult’ fiction. It does kinda make sense, I suppose, in that it could offer younger adults a more realistic reading experience, since they’re having sex, and all, anyway, but still, I’m a bit disturbed by the label. Yet another market to write to, I suppose? I don’t know how I feel about it, actually. Part of me thinks it feels like pandering, and another part of me feels like it’s what I write already, and yet another part of me feels like I don’t know what I’m talking about.
    That could be the cold medicine, though.

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