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Book-Talk Monday: “New Adult” Fiction

Monday, January 14, 2013

As you can most likely tell from my reading lists/reviews, I tend to read more in the general market than the Christian market while I’m writing (not because I don’t like Christian fiction, but because I feel it impacts my own writing too much to read the exact same genre I’m writing). So, many of the bloggers/reviewers I follow write about the general market exclusively.

And in the general market, the newest trend in fiction is “New Adult.”

What is “New Adult”?

According to Kristan Hoffman in “New Adult: What Is It?”:

In the words of [S. Jae-Jones] at St. Martin’s, “New Adult is about young adulthood, when you are an adult but have not established your life as one (career, family, what-have-you).”

So, it’s about transition. The transformation from child to adult doesn’t happen overnight—just ask as anyone who is or has been (or is a parent to) a teenager. But the transition from teen to adult doesn’t happen overnight either. There’s a period of time where adulthood feels like a new pair of shoes. The expectations of independence and self-sufficiency are still new, still being broken in. New Adults are the people who have just begun to walk in those shoes; New Adult fiction is about their blisters and aches.

Remember the Chick Lit category? Well . . . my feeling is that New Adult is Chick Lit all grown up. Or, rather, set free from having to be Chick Lit. New Adult focuses on those formative adult years—from around age eighteen to twenty-five or so (maybe to late twenties). It’s college, grad school, and those first few years out in the real world. It’s graduating from high school, not going to college, and figuring out what to do instead. It’s dropping out of college at age twenty-one and having to move back in with your parents and get a job and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. It’s being a young newlywed, trying not only to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life but how to live that life with someone else who’s trying to figure out what he/she wants to do, too.

Resonating with you yet? Doesn’t matter how old you are, you were a New Adult once upon a time.

The Characters
As already mentioned, the main characters in New Adult fiction range in age from post–high school to mid- to late-twenties. They’re seekers—seekers after learning (those who are in college/grad school/law school/what have you), seekers after meaning, seekers after spiritual understanding, seekers after identity. [In a way, I have many of these themes in my books, even dealing with characters in their thirties and (pushing) forties.] They’re baby birds who’ve been pushed out of the nest to try their wings and build their own nests. Yet, in many ways, they’re still those young adults who long for the comfort and security of having a “grownup” tell them what’s right and wrong and make decisions for them. It’s a time of firsts for them: first job, first apartment, first bank account, first time living out from under Mom and Dad’s roof, first time having to set personal boundaries. Imagine all the conflicts those firsts are rife with!

The Content
Many of the wider media outlets who have covered the emergence of the NA genre have shoved it into a pretty small box. This New York Times piece basically defines NA as YA plus explicit sex:

The goal is to retain young readers who have loyally worked their way through series like Harry Potter, “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” all of which tread lightly, or not at all, when it comes to sexual encounters.

But the gatekeepers of NA beg to differ. “NA is more than just contemporary and NA does NOT have to have sex. NA is a category of fiction, which means it’s like any other category such as YA or Adult,” writes Victoria Smith on the blog NA Alley. (Though, by Googling “New Adult Fiction,” I’d say the genre is going to face an uphill battle to get rid of the perception of “steamier YA” or “tons of sexy sex for the Millennial reader.”)

Just like YA did, New Adult wants to expand beyond “boy meets girl” and “first love” types of stories. And, frankly, the sky’s the limit when it comes to this genre—contemporary, paranormal, suspense, mystery, internal journey, physical journey, romance, dystopian, urban fantasy, steam punk . . . pretty much every genre lends itself to NA. Even historical, which has always featured characters (heroines, anyway) in the 18 to late-twenties age range. To me, what defines NA and separates it from the characters of the same age in historicals is the culture of the modern world. Even 100 years ago, expectations on 18 to 25 year olds were different . . . though Downton Abbey told solely through the POVs of Mary, Edith, Sybill, Matthew, Anna, Branson, Thomas, etc., would probably be a great example of historical NA.

The Books
While I’m not one who would actively seek out NA to read myself, there are quite a few resources where you can see lists of NA titles, the primary one being Goodreads.

As contemporary fiction, especially contemporary romance, starts making a bigger footprint in Christian publishing, I know we’ll start seeing much more of it. NA romances like Krista Phillips’s Sandwich, with a Side of Romance and Jenny B. Jones’s There You’ll Find Me are already making waves. There’s also plenty of room in CF for issue-driven NA fiction, such as October Baby (film novelization by Eric Wilson) and Sweet Dreams by Carla Stewart. But then, we’ll see it in other genres in CF as well, like Patrick Carr’s upcoming fantasy, A Cast of Stones.

I believe that NA is a perfect fit for Christian fiction because of its very nature of focusing on characters who are in transition, who are searching for purpose and meaning, who are moving out from under paying lip service to their parents’ faith and beliefs and learning what they truly believe about God and about how they’re being called to impact the world.

What do you think of New Adult as a genre? Have you read anything that you think fits this genre, either in the Christian market or the general market? Do you think this genre has staying power, or is it, like Chick Lit, doomed to run its course and then fade away?

3 Comments
  1. Monday, January 14, 2013 6:11 am

    Kaye, thank you for your post on NA fiction. Although I had not heard the term prior to reading your post, I would say that NA has great sticking power if handled properly. For one thing, the age group of the protagonist corresponds to the age group of one of the primary readership groups. Even readers well into their thirties and early forties would read these books as they may still be battling the same issues. Also, the issues faced by new adults are often the deepest issues of life–the issues involving decisions that will influence their lives for the rest of their lives. Issues like whether to marry, whom to marry, what career to pursue, where to live–all issues that involve the search for significance that is so prevalent at this age. I will keep a close eye on this evolving genre. Thank you again for your post. My mind is whirring with a lot of new ideas for my own fiction writing.

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn

  2. Monday, January 14, 2013 11:33 am

    I LOVE that there is a NA genre. I have several manuscripts – and several full series – plotted out [as much as a pantser ever does] that are set in this age range but didn’t know if I’d ever find a home for them. Knowing it’s possible makes me happy :D. I don’t know how many I’ve read, but a few.

    I think, at the moment at least, this is a primarily contemp thing – an 18yo heroine in the 1870s can get married and be an ‘grown up’ rather than a ‘new adult’ without anyone batting an eyelash. Sometimes even younger. But an 18yo in a contemp is a bit harder in your regular ‘grown up’ fiction. JMO anyway :).

    Regardless, love the emergence of non-chick-lit NA :D.

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