Now, there's no denying that new adult is one more way to market and divide books to appeal to their readers; it's creating a genre that some people think is needed. To an extent, I agree: I'd love to see more contemporaries that are set in a college setting.
However, there comes an issue when paired against or as a continuation of YA books. We've seen new adult described as a 'sexier' young adult, as a way for young adult characters to 'grow up,' and as filling a niche in an age group in terms of high school v. college and the differences in
"New adult is a sexier, steamier young adult!"
I don't understand this rationale, and it's the one I have the most issues with. It's also the most popular description for new adult that I've seen so far, having several articles written about it.
There seems to be a stigma that sex in YA is NEW and CONTROVERSIAL and STEAMY. Young adult literature has always had sex and sexiness in it, be it an awkward blow job scene in Looking for Alaska or the steamy make-out scenes in Vampire Academy. Young adult literature is a good reflection of real life: there are people who make out and have sex, and sometimes it's awkward and sometimes it's not, and sometimes there are consequences and sometimes there aren't.
The articles seem to claim that new adult contains more explicit sex or sexier scenes, and yet they're paired with the same themes and overall content of young adult literature.
This is silly to me - an exploit on the recent Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon that, surprise!, people have a sex drive. But given that the themes and characters are the same, if slightly older, I don't understand what's going to be found in new adult that couldn't be found in young adult or the adult romance or erotica sections.
"It allows characters a chance to grow up and become adults."
Some people have argued that the new adult genre allows characters to grow up and move into the real world. However, that's the basic plot of any young adult novel: coming to terms with yourself and your place in the world (often referred to as a bildungsroman).
Now, I understand that, in contemporary literature, college students deal with a handful of different issues than high school students. As age groups, young adult encompasses more than contemporary literature; this division doesn't account for fantasy, science-fiction, and historical novels in anything other than strict age-in-years.
Even with the contemporary settings, a lot of the themes are still the same; it's just the setting and age that are slightly different. While new adult acts as a way to market that more specific age group, the overall story seems to settle just as well into the young adult niche, with just as much appeal to teenagers.
"New adult is to satisfy the aging Harry Potter generation."
Of course, there's the final idea that new adult is to act just as a differentiation for people who want to read books LIKE young adult, but aren't ACTUALLY young adult. The same themes and plots and fast-paced nature, but you know, the NAME is different and the characters are OUR age.
I think it's a bit silly, as I have always read up and down the sliding age scale, as have the rest of my friends. We tend to look for themes rather than character ages, and as proven by the above two points, the themes of new adult are the same as the themes of young adult.
Now, as a marketing ploy, this works well for those who are afraid or don't want to read young adult because of its reputation - but because of this, it doesn't supplement the young adult genre; it acts as an alternative and almost puts it down with how its being presented thus far. It's STEAMIER. The characters are more MATURE. It's for people who don't WANT to read young adult.
And as a young adult fan, that worries me; young adult has enough stigma attached to it without having to be further divided and divvied up. What happens to the young adult genre? It could easily get lose, with new adult reaching down to snag the 17 to 19 age range and middle grade snagging the rest, even if neither belong in those sections.
Of course, the biggest difference here is the ages. New adult claims to be 20 - 24, or even 18 - 24: the basic college age student. Now, there's already an issue here when the genre isn't contemporary, because there's no strict line between the actions of a 'teenager' and a 'new adult.' But are there other differences?
In contemporary stories, college-age is when real-like people experience what most young adult characters do: the coming of age, the figuring out who you are and what you want and where you belong, and the overall shouldering of responsibility. The situations also extend to both high school and college: first loves, first kisses, first times, first jobs. First aren't exclusive for high school.
College students, particularly the ones I know, tend to identify more with teenagers than they do with adults, even as they're growing up into adults. While new adult might embody the 'college' mentality - again, a mentality that exists solely in a contemporary setting - it's a mentality that appeals to teenagers and college students, and is a mentality that already appears in young adult literature.
There's a question that I've been wondering: what does the labeling of this do?
Do libraries shelf this with young adult or adult or in a different section entirely? Do you recommend it to younger teens, or will it be something out of reach? Are book banners going to grab onto it and shake it and yell about how they're corrupting our youth?
Because of how it's being marketed so far, especially given the 'steamier' nature, it's going to be harder to get into the hands of teens, even if they're going to want it more. It's going to sell, because that is the nature of good books and shiny new things, but there might be a cost to that selling, one that comes with articles about how 'inappropriate' is is, just like how 'dark' YA was.
And those in the genre will laugh it off because they understand it. But those outside it won't dare try it unless urged by friends. It'll be scandalous. And they certainly wouldn't offer it to their kids. That would be wrong.
Now, of course, this is a hyperbolic description of what could happen to a genre that's just starting out. But I do wonder about how teenagers, and even college students, in ye less liberal states will get a hold of these things. They will somehow, because they always do, but... it's something to think about.
What is new adult?
Or, rather, what could it be?
The genre is fumbling right now to find a place, and the articles about it aren't helping. Nobody knows quite what it is.
C.J. Redwine's comment to Julie on Twitter got it right. New adult has the potential to be aftewards to the coming of age:
Young is coming of age; new adult is crossing the threshold into adulthood.
While the themes are hyper-similar to young adult, if angled right, there's a potential for exploration: long-term commitment and maybe even marriage vs. first loves and steady relationships; responsibility that isn't just forced on you as you grow or to protect the ones you love, but ones that you openly accept to move forward in the world. And yes, they can be a little older. And because of the nature of the relationships, maybe the scenes can be a little steamier.
But it's nothing like it's being described right now, and that's the issue. New adult, as it is now, cannot live with young adult without creating a turfwar and dividing a genre that doesn't need dividing.
I love young adult. If new adult is how C.J. Redwine describes it, and if it's handled right, I could love it too.
But I don't want it to be young-adult-for-those-who-don't-want-to-read-young-adult. And that's how it is now.
Hopefully the marketers will get their hard-hats on and fix it up. (And while you're at it, let's get rid of the stigma that YA sucks, eh?)