Adults May Be “Young,” But They Are Never “New”

We know that the “boundaries” of “adulthood” have shifted somewhat over the centuries. I was writing yesterday in my manuscript of an 18 year old woman in 1814. Yet now, in 2021, most adults from their mid-20s and up are likely to consider an “18 year old” barely more than a child.

Having finished that bit, I did some of that “scrolling” thing again on social media. This time it was Instagram and what I saw there got me thinking about how I am pleased this “genre” debate is basically finished. Yet it still pops up now and then on social media, as in this example, from February 23:

[From Instagram.]

When I saw that it got my attention especially because many of my stories center around “twenty-somethings.” We are treated to a multi-screen presentation of the “new adult” genre. The problem with it is “new adult – if it ever existed, really – is now considered “dead.”

It was first mentioned by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. But the “new genre” never really caught fire with publishers, agents, and most importantly the reading public, as an older version of “young adult.” Still the Instagram screens were an interesting read and I thought they were worth addressing and preserving (in case it vanishes):

First of all, “new adult” does (did?) not have THAT target audience. What makes (made?) it different from “young adult” is (was?) its protagonists are (were?) between those ages. However, the READING audience could be any adult… because the tales are probably not suitable reading for under-18s, and certainly not for under-16s. A small example:

[Excerpt from Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996, Copyright 2014. Paperback. Click to expand.]

That above is from my second novel, and the woman there is twenty-five years old and at her Paris job.

[Louvre Pyramid (although not photographed on exactly July 14), Paris, France. Photo by me, July 1995.]

The “young adult” issue of what are its “age appropriate” boundaries is not just about certain “intimate” subjects, but also more broadly about what teens might not quite “grasp” in adult tales to the same extent as adults. Simply put, most teens have not lived and worked on their own… which makes sense because they are, after all, teens.

In comparison, most readers over age 25 can better relate to such tales in some form or another, and particularly, as above, to an issue like “office politics.”

And I don’t agree that it is (or was ever) possible to make it a “genre” somehow separate from adult. Why? Because there is “adult” and there is “teen (young adult).” I always felt (and still feel) trying to create some subcategory of “new(ly) adult” is forced.

I think we all reasonably support the notion that when we are younger we tend to want to emulate those who are a few years older than us: when we are age eleven a fifteen year old is someone we look up to and “idolize” in some ways; when we are fifteen, it is the eighteen year old we may envy; when we are eighteen it becomes perhaps the “sophisticated” twenty-five year old; when we are twenty-five, it is now maybe the thirty-five year old who seems to have it all. However, there it seems to stop: by the time we hit about thirty, from then on we read pretty much anything aimed at “adults” – both tales featuring older characters as well as younger ones.

Evidence for that is, for example, the appalling success a decade ago of a certain book that started with the word “Fifty” and features a twenty-one year woman and a rich twenty-seven year old man… but the bulk of its readership tended to be women in their thirties and up. Moreover some of its harshest critics were those in their early-middle twenties. So was that book “new adult?” Really?

The assertion that “19-25” year olds are largely absent from literature? Seriously? I am sorry, but that is simply wrong. Much literature has always revolved around characters in their twenties, including women.

Most importantly about that “genre” is that “19-25” year olds were not really reading THOSE so-called “new adult” books in nearly large enough numbers. Again, that was the big problem and why the “new” genre did not take off. Essentially it seemed that while a 20 year old woman currently might love reading about 20 year old “Elizabeth Bennet” who “lived” 200 years ago, that same modern 20 year old woman was and is not quite as keen to read about some current day “20 year old” much like herself.

Meanwhile given the label and its known close association as some “step up” from “young adult,” older readers may have been put off by that “new adult” label in thinking that the books were, frankly, NOT adult enough.

There, with a negative, we are presented with the core of the matter: sex. That was what supposedly made “new adult” – freedom to write, well, about sex in a manner that “young adult” appropriately does not allow.

Again, though, writing characters in their twenties is NOT about writing to “protect” younger readers. It is simply about writing about people in their twenties.

And the genre is not continuing to grow: that is inaccurate. To repeat: by most accounts I have seen, agents and publishers are not interested in “new adult.”

With that above we are reminded again why “new adult” did not get traction: it was neither one thing or the other.

In particular it was seemingly aiming for a readership that had just aged out of “young adult.” On that front end, once we reach adulthood, though, are we as interested in reading “young[er] adult” books any longer? More likely, we want to “graduate” to fully adult literature that actually broadens our world and which also in many ways may best reflect the adult world we know.

On the back end, those over age 30 or so were likely just not attracted to what appeared to be books targeted at younger adults.

Thus that final screen reminds us as well why no author now should term their novel “new adult.” Anything written for over-18 readers is adult literature, pure and simple. Yet, as we saw in all of that above, and here as well, just yesterday, in someone else’s Instagram post (that I have combined into one view)…

[From Instagram.]

…there are still some who think it is viable. And commenters naturally agree:

[From Instagram.]
[From Instagram.]

Regardless, these “genres,” such as they may be, are poorly named anyhow.

What is called “young adult” is really “teen” (but is likely called “YA” because, I suspect, 14-18 year olds resist reading “teen” books because “teen” there denotes “childish” to them: I know I felt that way at that age; I would not have been caught “dead” reading a “teen” book).

And what is/was “new adult” is actually in fact perhaps a truer form of “young adult” – simply and only because its main characters are between ages 18-29, which makes them, chronologically-speaking, in fact, TRUE “young adults.”

[The famous opening to Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Photo by me, 2018.]

Finally, remember “Elizabeth Bennet” is 20 years old in Pride and Prejudice. Does that make it a “new adult” book?

Pardon me, as I try to stop myself from laughing.

Bottom line: if you want to write about 18-29 year olds, do NOT call them “new adult” books. They are just novels.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂