There are so many opinions out there about new adult, we feel very blessed that you have clicked on this here post to discuss the age-old (or at least four-years-old) question: Is “New Adult” a thing?
I’m going to suggest the answer is yes … with some caveats.
New Adult is basically a category of books written for individuals aged 18-25ish, about protagonists aged 18-25ish. It is definitely a modern convention. How so? Well, think about it. Would you consider Sense and Sensibility “new adult”? No, definitely not.
Maybe we need to back up a bit. Not so very long ago, “young adult” was not a category of fiction. In fact, the word “teenager” itself was only coined in the 20th century. It makes sense when you think about it. 100 years ago, “teenagers” were getting married, having babies, going to war, working jobs, living independently—things that we currently believe only adults do. There was a fairly clear demarcation between childhood and adulthood—you were one, and then you were the other.
As society changed, so did our conceptualization of childhood and adulthood, with science recognizing a fact that seems obvious today: that in addition to the different ways we socialize adolescents in the modern era, there is something different about the brain chemistry of a 14 year old compared to a 24 year old. And with that societal change came a change in literature—books devoted to the experiences of the teen years.
So what does that mean for “new adult”?
Well, it’s fair to say that the 18-25 age group faces a unique set of challenges they have not faced in the past. (For now, we’ll call the entire group “millenials,” just to save time, though I think that is misleading in a way.) Just as the markers of adulthood (independence, adventure, marriage, family) have been pushed back for teenagers, so they’ve been pushed further into the late 20s. Student loan debt is crushing many millenials at the same time the job market it weak. Many millenials grew up with the first generation of helicopter parents, so their first steps into adulthood are more tentative. More and more of them grew up as children of divorce, so their ideas about adult romantic relationships are more cynical.
Which brings us back to Sense and Sensibility. Are Marianne and Elinor Dashwood “new adult” protagonists? They’re in the right age group. Their dilemmas—financial insecurity, lack of confidence in the future, uncertainty in romantic relationships—are similar.
But in the end, I would argue that “new adult” is a modern conception. Marianne and Elinor may be struggling to find their place in the world, but there is no doubt they are adults. Their problems were not unique to their age group—their problems were common problems for many adults in their era.
So here’s the caveat on new adult: it is currently a thing.
But it might not always be a thing.
At the moment, it is the product of a unique set of circumstances. Eventually, those circumstances will change. I believe new adult’s staying power—or lack thereof—will depend entirely on whether new adult expands beyond the “College Kids with Problems” genre.
I am simplifying for the sake of argument—I do know there are a handful of New Adult novels that fall outside this description. But the vast (and I mean, vaaaaaaast) majority are romance novels with a female college student as the protagonist.This leads to a lot of logical criticisms: that "new adult" is a genre that is synonymous with "chick lit," that "new adult" is just sexed-up young adult, that "new adult" is just an invention of self-publishing.
The proponents of "new adult" will be able to present plenty of counter-arguments to those assertions, but really, the only thing that will prove that New Adult is a real category is when there is a strong showing of multiple genres within the New Adult category. New adult thrillers, new adult sci fi, new adult romance, new adult mystery, new adult horror, etc.
For the record, I hope new adult is here to stay. As someone who has written some new adult and is working on more, it would be a real problem for me personally if the category were suddenly to become un-sellable. I suspect that will not be the case. But at the moment, new adult is a transitory category. Its future will depend entirely on how writers shape it.
This post was generously written by RuthAnne Snow. RuthAnne is a lawyer and aspiring writer. She lives in an old house with a little dog and a big porch. She blogs at http://
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