What’s New about New Adult?
As someone who carves out a living not only as an author but as an editor and writing instructor, it’s exciting to me when something new comes along in the publishing world—a new method for delivering stories, a new publishing house doing innovative things, or a new genre.
I found myself particular intrigued by the idea of “new adult” fiction, a recent(ish) term applied to stories of characters just past the age of young adult protagonists, those in their early twenties or so, with stories often—but not always–set on college campuses.
So, what is new adult?
To me, new adult fiction is meant to capture those strange, exciting, confusing years when one has stepped firmly over the line between childhood and adulthood and now asks, “Okay, now what?” It’s often about first real jobs, first deep loves, first struggles with finding out who one is as a member of a peer group or family or romantic/sexual relationship.
So much of young adult seems to be about discovery, about turning the corner into adulthood. For me, new adult fiction is about how one handles what’s discovered and how one navigates the first bumpy roads of maturity.
New adult has a reputation for being all about s-e-x. If you read widely in the genre, you tend to find that it is and it isn’t. Unlike young adult fiction, which tends to shy away from the topic of sex or treat it in a covert way, new adult embraces it as a realistic, compelling function of life. Especially of the life of most twenty-something-year olds.
Even when characters aren’t actively engaged in sexual/romantic relationships, sex looms large in their thoughts and in their lives. They’re virgins at an age when most of their peers aren’t. Or they’ve had some sexual trauma in life and are working to find healing and physical/emotional equilibrium.
Some new adult fiction features a whole lot of sex, and some doesn’t. Some books are more graphic than others. The new adult fiction I write with Veronica Rossi (under the name Noelle August) deals with sex in an overt but subtle way. You know exactly what’s going on–and what’s going on is pretty damn sexy, but we’re not giving readers an inventory of body parts.
That’s us. In regard to other new adult fiction, your mileage may very definitely vary!
Our Noelle August stories are romances at heart, but they’re also just as much about friendship, finding one’s artistic identity, learning what responsibilities to assume in life and what to let go. They’re about characters faced with hard choices in their family lives, in their careers, in their relationships, with the sense that the decisions they make now will shape the rest of their lives. And for all that, they’re funny too!
In the old days, these books might have been filed under general contemporary romance or, in our case, romantic comedies. But I like the label of new adult because it really says so much. The best of these books help us look at adulthood and maturity with fresh eyes. Love and sex, too.
Some younger readers may find themselves on the page in these books where they haven’t quite done so in other genres. And some readers, who—like me—are past the age of new adult protagonists, can find sweet, strange, hilarious, and meaningful memories there.
The characters in new adult may be of a certain age, but I believe the genre offers something for just about everyone. Enjoy!
Lorin Oberweger is a long-time independent editor and story development guru, Lorin’s client successes range from small press publications to major bestselling novels. She’s an award-winning author and has also worked behind the scenes as a ghostwriter on a variety of projects. Her work has received starred Kirkus reviews and glowing mentions in The New York Times.