by Bailey Potter, Collaborative Editor
Nowadays, other than for college, young adults often don’t fully move out of their parents’ house until they’re in their mid to late twenties, and people are getting married and having children later than the generations before, choosing to travel, get a higher education, live their young lives, and have fun. We are experiencing an extended young adulthood, if you will.
Despite this, the average recommended age for young adult (YA) books has not changed in sixty years, still hovering around twelve to eighteen years old. We’ve needed a change in the YA grind to reflect our modern, more adult-reading needs but with the same flavors that YA gives, like coming-of-age, exploring the boundaries of friendships and relationships, and the thrill of new and magical experiences.
Enter the new adult (NA) genre—picking up where YA content usually leaves off and with a recommended age range from eighteen to thirty years old, though people of all ages and genders are attracted to this genre. New adult has two origin stories, which feels strangely appropriate for it, but either way it seems to have been St. Martin’s Press that first coined the term in 2009 to describe the types of books that seemed to be pouring into the market. There were many at that time who scoffed at the term and “new” genre, thinking that it was a marketing ploy that would have no real impact on the readers, while others were more open to the idea, thinking it nicely filled a hole in the market for readers who had outgrown YA books but wanted more adult content, especially in regards to romance.
Flash forward to today: it’s a booming, but still relatively new, genre—just look at Sarah J. Maas’s two popular series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Throne of Glass; the Blood and Ash series by Maas’s friend and popular author Jennifer L. Armentrout; and the Magicians series by Lev Grossman.
So what exactly are the hallmarks of this still-growing-in-popularity genre? NA books focus on the life experiences and lessons one learns after they turn eighteen. The protagonist is often between eighteen and their early twenties, though the reader sees their personal growth through the course of the book or series. The reader’s age typically mirrors the protagonist’s, although as mentioned earlier, readers of this genre can extend into their late twenties and beyond. These books tend to explore similar themes to YA, such as personal identity, grief and mental health, relationships, and growing up, but new adult also explores the consequences of these on a grander scale—such as career and higher education choices and sexuality—and it tends to be more visual and, not surprisingly, more adult with depictions, such as with violence, trauma, and steamy sex scenes. Like YA though, NA books could also be fiction, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, and more. I personally find that NA and magic seem to go hand in hand, as readers of YA paranormal fantasy are searching for books to escape in but have more adult-themed content.
Maybe you are writing a novel that could be characterized as either YA or new adult. I edited one of these recently—the inspiration for this newsletter, actually—a speculative sci-fi where the protagonist was nearly fifteen years old and though this was a coming-of-age story, he was already going through plenty of traumatic experiences for one so young. And as this was set in another world, children were forced to grow up too quickly, practically becoming adults in all ways but height. There was also the promise of a budding romance in future books of the series, though there were only seeds planted in this first one. The content spoke to being NA, while the protagonist’s age was still technically YA. Especially in books like this one where the author is exploring social and political systems, trauma and growth, not shying away from adult language and themes, and playing the long game in setting up future relationships, I think it’s appropriate to call it a new adult book for the sake of accurately capturing the target audience’s attention. There is always going to be a middle, gray area for exploring on any spectrum—that’s how the new adult genre was born, after all.
So explore the gray area, explore your young adult characters’ experiences as they enter adulthood. There’s an eager audience for new adult material, and your story could be the one they want to read next.
A book enthusiast since the boom of Harry Potter when she heard her calling at the age of seven, Bailey Potter is an Oregonian, an editor, a witch, a cat-cuddler, and a hiker. She received her BA and MS from Portland State University and can usually be found reading New Adult books.