I’m fortunate to present a guest post by my friend and YA-Expert-on-Retainer, Jill Ratzan. I defer to her expertise on all things related to YA literature. These are her insightful comments on the difference between new adult and young adult as seen in actual literature. This is a post worth reading and referencing.
So my friend and colleague Kim — and lots of librarians, authors, publishers, and others in the book community — have been talking recently about something called new adult literature. As Kim’s written, misconceptions abound about what NA is and isn’t – and especially how it is or isn’t different from what’s (possibly deceptively) called young adult literature. My own opinion is the same as Kim’s — NA is a literature for and about newly independent adults, roughly ages 18-25. And while it may be a new topic of conversation,
it’s certainly not a new idea: Cynthia Voigt’s novel Seventeen Against the Dealer is a perfect example of NA . . . and it was published in 1989.
What I’d like to talk about specifically is a pair of recent books by Daria Snadowsky that, taken together, are a perfect example of the differences between YA and NA. In the first book, Anatomy of a Boyfriend (2007), we meet protagonist Dominique, a high school senior who’s about to enter into her first romantic relationship. Dominique meets Wesley; they date; they have several fumbling sexual encounters. They think they’ll be together for all time. But when Dom’s parents convince her to take a summer camp job far away from Wes, Dom meets someone new, and she and Wes part ways. (If this sounds like the plot
of Forever . . . by Judy Blume, that’s completely intentional: Snadowsky envisioned her story as an updated take on Blume’s YA classic.)
In the second book, Anatomy of a Single Girl (2013), Dom’s home for the summer after finishing her first year of college. She’s finally starting to pursue her dream career as a doctor by volunteering at a local hospital. She’s still smarting from her breakup with Wes…and then Guy comes into her life. Much sex ensues. But in between work
and hitting the hay with Guy, Dom has other things on her mind too. Her parents think she should have a curfew while she’s living at home, but Dom’s accustomed to making her own hours. She and her high school best friend Amy have to renegotiate what their friendship means now that they’ve been apart for the first time. In the end, a chance
encounter — and some unexpected news from Amy’s long-distance beau — force Dom to come to terms with yet another aspect of adulthood: what to do about the chain of exes one leaves behind.
Anatomy of a Boyfriend is a young adult book. In it, Dom’s encountering romance (and sex) for the first time. She’s also thinking about sports, friends, college applications, and the myriad of other topics that fill a high school senior’s days. But Anatomy of a Single Girl is a new adult book. Here, Dom’s comfortable with the idea of sex in general, and her focus is on how to find more pleasure in sexual interactions. She’s also grappling with how to balance her budding career with her love life, and is actively redefining what her newly-adult relationships with her parents and high school friends will be.
In terms of sheer word count, Single Girl features more sex than Boyfriend. The sex scenes in Single Girl are also more detailed, especially when Dom and Guy experiment with different sexual positions. But neither of these is the main point *on its own* — they’re both reflections of the situational differences between a high school senior and a rising college sophomore. Dom and Guy can have sex more often than Dom and Wes ever could . . . for the very practical reason that Guy has his own room at a local fraternity house. And since sex itself isn’t new to either Dom or Guy, they’re free to explore their own — and each others’ — bodies with more nuance.
Young adults grow into new adults. Their situations, concerns, and relationships are different from what they were as teens. At the same time, though, new adults are just that: new to adulthood. They’re not yet navigating marriage and children, full-time jobs, bills, or retirement savings accounts. Like Kim, I applaud the idea of a literature that lets 18-25 year olds see themselves . . . and their unique struggles and triumphs . . . reflected in fiction. And the corresponding idea that readers who aren’t necessarily new adults
themselves can use these stories as a window into a new adult world.
Jill Ratzan is still wondering when she herself will become a ‘real’ adult. She’s a school librarian at a small independent school and a reviewer of young adult and middle grade books for School Library Journal and BookPage magazine. Her passion is teaching and writing about children’s and YA lit. Visit her website at