In most public libraries I’ve seen, books are separated into three main categories: children (or juvenile), young adult (or teen), and adult. These categories are mighty broad, and while some books don’t fit snugly into just one, they, for the most part, get the job done pretty well for classification and discovery purposes. Last week, my colleague and I were dealing with one of the aforementioned un-snug cases, and as I was poking around online gathering information that could help us decide, I discovered a budding fourth category of literature that has emerged and gained legitimacy right under my oblivious nose: New Adult.
What is New Adult? Is it a marketing ploy to appeal to a younger crowd by ramping up the sweetness of the original formula, a la New Coke? Not exactly, but there may be some parallels (more on that in a minute). According to NA Alley, a site devoted to all things New Adult (NA) literature, New Adult fiction is a “category of literature” that “encompasses the transition between adolescence (a life stage often depicted in Young Adult fiction) and true adulthood. Protagonists generally fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.”
I perused a few other sites and articles to get a sense of what the reading universe’s thoughts about NA are, and opinions are predictably mixed. Some view it as a welcome addition to a literature market that had heretofore been underserving the post-high school through post-college crowds. The most common criticisms I’ve seen of NA are that it’s a thinly veiled marketing scheme and that it’s little more than young adult literature with more gratuitous sex scenes (there are those New Coke parallels).
As for me, I’m withholding final judgment until I have more information. As I am in most instances of change, I’m reflexively bothered by and skeptical of NA, but also like in most instances of change, there’s a good chance I’ll slowly and grudgingly come around. In theory, it sounds like something to be embraced; if these books are truly able to speak to “new” adults in a relatable, meaningful way, I’m all for them. I do, however, have doubts. I suppose the worst case scenario for me would be if NA turns out to be a dumbed-down brand of adult fiction that covers situations those in the target audience would experience, but in a “sexier,” sorta-relatable-but-not-really type of way, kind of like the literary equivalent of the latter years of Dawson’s Creek. Judging by the covers (I know, I know, I’m not supposed to do that, but let’s be real, we do it all the time) and titles on this list of “Popular New Adult Fiction Books” on Goodreads, I have grounds to worry that the criticisms of NA may be valid. Nevertheless, I’m going to do my best to keep an open mind and read a few NA offerings before I overeagerly wave my dismissive hand. I know that much like your Grand Pappy who just discovered e-mail, I’m late to the party on this one, but I vow to make up for my New Adult noob-ness soon, upon which time I’ll hopefully have positive findings to report.