The other day I was shocked to find mention of an entire literary genre that I didn’t know existed before. My adventures in transmedia and geography are known far and wide (at least in my head) but this new thing — this “New Adult” is all very, well, new to me.
First things first: what the hell is it? The definitions are perhaps more varied than the genre itself. The New York Times called NA novels “books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed”, the Guardian chalked it up to a genre aimed at 14-35 year olds (bit broad, don’t you think?) and young adult librarian Elizabeth Burns says it’s down to main characters that are coming of age after high school.
So the jury is out on exact definitions, but one thing’s for sure. Quite a few bloggers have called new adult shiny packaging for an old concept: contemporary romance. Particularly, Jane Litte, founder of Dear Author, argues that NA is traditional romance with a very small twist — a deep emotional connection is present between main characters, rather than a meaningless sexual relationship.
And, of course, the real question: Why would the industry create a category with such unclear genre conventions? I agree with novelist Diana Peterfreund that “new” adult is a “new” way to market books to readers, rather than the so-called next big thing.
The genre is designed to pick up readers of Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games as they transition to adulthood, much like the protagonists of NA fiction. And, hey, perhaps this is needed — who hasn’t looked up thoughtfully from a guilty-pleasure YA novel (like When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen. Not that I would dream of reading a book for fourteen year olds, of course) and thought, “I am too old to be reading this.”
And if you subscribe to the idea, as I do, that though you really do love young adult in a relaxing, easy-read kind of way, it might be better for your brain to crack open a literary classic, then maybe new adult is your next favourite genre. Or, at least, that’s what the publishers would like to see from you.
Because, honestly, let’s break the genre down. New Adult = romance + young adult. And if these genres didn’t appeal to you before, you best jump off the NA bandwagon before it gets going.