New Adult — What’s the friggin’ controversy?

June 13th 2013

Strange Chemistry, a YA imprint from Angry Robot Books, posted an interesting question on their Twitter feed yesterday morning: So… Do you think that New Adult is a fad? Or do you think it’s here to stay? Can you envisage getting bored of it?” It was meant to encourage debate and boy did it ever…in my head.

I’ve heard people slam NA, mostly on Twitter. In fact, a prominent agent said he thought NA was oversexed YA and wouldn’t even read the queries for authors identifying their work as NA. To that I say — wha????

New Adult is an age category, in the same way YA is an age category. It is not a genre. It is not oversexed YA. It is not erotica. It’s just a category meant to identify those books whose protagonists are older than teens and a few months shy of their mid-twenties. And why shouldn’t there be an age category for this group? Does anyone not remember what it was like to be 19 years old and trying to navigate college? Or having just graduated from said college and trying to be an adult in an office when you just got done eating dinner off a plastic tray for the last four years? A 22-year-old world is far different from my 34-year-old one. Why shouldn’t there be a category for readers to reflect this equally exciting and petrifying time in one’s life?

Some people take issue with making NA its own category, preferring to lump these books in with adult fiction. Some people take issue with the misnomer term, ‘New Adult.’ My friend, Jill Ratzan, who I refer to as ‘My YA Expert on Retainer’ says YA should really be called Teen Fiction and NA should be Young Adult. After all, you’re technically not an adult until your 18, so a 19-year-old would be a ‘young adult.’ While, I agree that terminology makes more sense, the current nomenclature is probably here to stay.

As for NA being a fad; it’s no more a fad than being 23 years old. Unless people are going to magically skip from 18 to 25, there needs to be literature that speaks to those demographics. So why can’t it be named, targeted and marketed? Why shouldn’t authors who write for that demographic label their books as such so readers can find them easily? Why does it have to be a thing? A controversy?

As for the ridiculous assertion that NA is erotic YA, all I can say is this: students in college have sex — probably more sex than anyone my age so of course it will be noted in the literature. If it wasn’t in there, then critics would complain it didn’t reflect reality. In addition, sex in YA literature is considered a weighty issue, something that can’t be, or shouldn’t be, glossed over. Consequences, emotions and maturity have to be explored. Whereas in NA, sex is treated as just something people do. Sure, there are consequences and emotions but it’s part of the discussion of a healthy, normal sex life. Often characters in NA literature are trying to navigate the awkward waters of casual sex or sexual exploration with a partner. Think Lena Dunham’s character on Girls.

Now, I don’t write NA, but I do write YA. And the idea that YA could ever be considered a fad or temporary seems ridiculous. Most authors would agree. So perhaps for that reason, I feel this need to defend NA for what it is — an age category reflective of its readers — and what it isn’t — a marketing scheme with a shelf life.

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3 comments on “New Adult — What’s the friggin’ controversy?

  1. Mirka Breen

    The only controversial possibility I see, is one that is missed by those who pounce on NA. It’s the issue of YA most often being lumped in with Kid-lit. YA is NOT children’s literature, and neither chat-boards nor bookstores should have this category anywhere near PB, CB or MG.
    Once you add NA to the mix, my point becomes clearer.

    At any rate, this is a publishing business issue. Most consumers need not (and do not) pay attention to it.

  2. Leandra

    I don’t think NA will be something I delve into too much. Mainly b/c most of the blurbs I’ve read on NA books seem like they’re contemporary romances, and I generally like my fiction to have a dash(or lots of dashes) of fantasy or the paranormal. But that said, I don’t have a problem w/it at all. In fact, it seems to be really popular! Which leads me to believe that there was definitely a niche just waiting for it in the market, yup, yup.

    1. kggiarratano Post author

      A great NA title is Just One Day by Gayle Forman. I don’t think it’s marketed as NA, but the protag is 19. It’s brilliantly written.

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