Charlotte Hannah
November 05, 2012

‘New Adult’ Novels Bridge the Gap Between Teen Years and Adulthood

Photo credit: Tammara Webber

In the past, the path laid out for most people after their high school graduation was pretty cut-and-dried: maybe take a year off to “find yourself”, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids.

These days, more and more young adults are delaying (either by choice or by necessity) the transition into what would traditionally be called “adulthood”.

They’re living with their parents into their early twenties and beyond, they’re spending more time dating instead of rushing into marriage, and they’re either staying childfree or putting off having children until their careers are established.

The period of time during which young people are figuring out who they are, what they want, and where they fit in their world is being extended long past the high school years – and as a result, the young adult novels that have traditionally been marketed to readers in the high school age bracket aren’t relevant to these older teens and 20-somethings. Nor are the memoirs and fiction books about divorce, affairs, childrearing and mid-life crises that are marketed to “adults”.

Enter the “new adult” novel – an emerging category of fiction that aims to bridge the divide between the teen years and traditional adulthood.

According to The Guardian, new adult books are aimed at mostly female readers aged 14 – 35, although it would seem more accurate given the subject matter to put the age range between 17 and 30. Unlike the protagonists of young adult (“YA”) novels, who tend to be high school-aged, new adult books feature protagonists who are in their late teens or early twenties.

Books in the new adult category deal with themes like handling the transition to college and the complications that accompany it, finding oneself, navigating romantic and sexual relationships (and sometimes, separating the two), and dealing with painful issues such as depression, rape, suicide and self-harm.

New adult novels definitely appear to be “darker” and more thematically mature than their YA counterparts, although anyone who’s read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak knows that YA novels can be plenty dark.

You can find a list of popular new adult novels, along with synopses, here. One thing that stood out to me when reading these synopses was the fact that most seem to revolve around a traditional relationship. While some do touch on subjects like breakups and even rape, it looks like they still espouse the “true love conquers all” mentality so often seen in YA fiction. I think this does readers – an older, presumably more mature audience than the YA crowd – a disservice. Having not yet read a new adult novel, I can’t make any judgments yet, though.

What do you think about new adult novels? Would you read one? Let us know in the comments.