New Adult Books – For Those Learning to ‘Adult’

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If there was ever a topic that I relate to the most, it’s this one. Last week I reflected on Young Adult books, and you can read the article here: This week though, it’s time to grow up even more. As readers bridge the gap between late teens and full-fledged adulthood, New Adult stories light the way. With familiar tropes and similar styles palatable for teens, perhaps with slightly more mature nuances added, these books blend coming-of-age with newfound adult stability, or the lack thereof!

After all, it’s safe to wager that most readers between the ages of 18-25 are unlikely to be interested in stories of endless office romances and custody battles. At the end of the day, it’s just not demographically relatable to this awkward in-between age bracket. 

So where do they turn instead? Enter the New Adult designation. Although the purpose of New Adult books is fairly straightforward, their narratives often function in slightly different ways.

1. They illustrate college-aged struggles.

College can be a stressful time of exploration and discovery, away from prying parental control. For the first time ever, you’re on your own. No time of life perhaps, is more indicative of the new adult experience. This category may feature immature characters in college, but perhaps with adult-sized problems. 

The protagonist may even speak and act a lot like their high school counterparts, but they may reach a greater range of emotional depth. Sure there’s still social politics, homework, and dating, but at this level, New Adult takes all of this a step further. Suddenly, the biggest plot anxiety isn’t getting to Homecoming with the right guy. Instead, it’s all about managing societal influences in the context of family obligation. Or maybe, it’s about the protagonist finding themselves in the rubble of their plans being torn apart from injury or illness. It’s heavier, and more real. Sand and bricks of New Adult books replace the glitter and fluff seeping through the pages of YA stories.

2. They provide a YA heat rating but with older characters.

For those of us that want to watch others like us “grow up” minus the HBO-level graphic visuals, New Adult is just the ticket. This is where the delineation gets especially vague, as some books dubbed “YA” have more sexual tension and explicitness than new adult books. But the key here is, what is the story attempting to do? Is it bridging that gap successfully, or slipping shamelessly into full-on adult smut territory? Get a sense of the story by reading ratings ahead of time if you’re not sure.

Although readers in this age bracket run the gamut of heat preferences, these books tend to lean less on explicitness and more on the consequences, dilemmas, and psychological setbacks more common in adults. This contrasts interestingly with the often-steamier nature of YA. You may think this trend should run backwards, and maybe sometimes it does, but this is what I’ve observed. 

3. They give a taste of adult life in measured doses.

Taylor Swift famously sings “take a breath, count to ten, take it in / this is life before you know who you’re gonna be” (“Fifteen”, Fearless). The New Adult category really embodies this idea, maybe even more openly than the YA stories. It’s an illustration of the time when you’re kind of supposed to know who you’re going to be, and what your life might look like long term – but you don’t have a clue. Well, at least I don’t – I’m sure some people my age might, but I’m not one of them. 

Seeing adult life in a familiar context, or at least, a pseudo-adult life, might make the transition a bit easier to swallow. New Adult gives readers a place to fit into while their comfort zone seems to be spitting them out. 

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


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