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Saturday, October 18, 2014

What is a New Adult book?

by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

There’s a new category of books in the publishing world called “New Adult”.  You’ve probably heard of young adult books, a term which really means books for teens.  We’re in a golden age of young adult literature.  Many books come out in this category now, selling well and getting checked out in stacks at libraries.  Teens aren’t the only ones reading them; many adults do, too, and I’m one of them. 

So what happens when a teen reader of YA fiction turns into a college student or twenty-something adult?  Of course, they can read any adult fiction.  But YA fiction can be enjoyable to read for its plot-driven writing and intense emotion, qualities that can be absent in quite a bit of general adult fiction.  And young adults may enjoy reading about people going through some of the same life changes as they are.  Enter New Adult, a genre featuring characters in the eighteen to thirty age range.

I attended a session on NA fiction at the Minnesota Library Association conference earlier this month.  I have to thank the presenter, Samantha TerBeest, for getting me up to speed on this new kind of book.  Samantha is a librarian at the Winona Public Library, formerly of the Willmar Public Library.  She was a source for a recent article on the NA fiction phenomenon in Library Journal, a prominent national publication for librarians.  I have her to credit for most of what I can share with you about the new genre.

The marks of the genre are the age of the characters and the topics of the books.  The protagonists are between the ages of eighteen and 25, with the other characters mostly falling between the ages of eighteen and thirty.  The books are about first times, such as going off to college, getting a first job, falling in love for the first time, and sex; and about social issues such as sexual harassment, rape, and cyberbullying.  Like other coming-of-age novels, these books cover a formative stage of life.  The content of these books is more mature, and as such they are considered adult novels. 

In 2009, St. Martin’s Press held a writing contest for “new adult” novels featuring twenty-something protagonists.  Nothing ever came of that contest, but the term was coined.  In 2012, this genre took off in self-publishing, almost entirely in e-books.  At this stage, it was mostly Fifty Shades of Grey for the college set.  But now the mainstream publishers have caught on to the trend, producing books of all kinds that fit into this niche.

One reason this is an interesting growth area is because the 18-29 demographic is the most likely to read but least likely to use a library, according to a new study from the Pew Research Internet Project, just released in September (Zickuhr & Rainie, Younger Americans and Public Libraries). 

Even though NA fiction is only a couple of years old, books that meet the criteria have been around as long as the novel has.  I think Jane Austen’s novels could be put in this category!  Samantha says that The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada could be considered NA.  Even The Help could be, with Skeeter falling into the right age group and facing the challenge of launching her career as a writer. 

Some titles that have come out recently as New Adult fiction are Easy, Wait for You, and Maybe Someday, which has a soundtrack you can listen to while you read the book.  The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is unusual in having a male protagonist.  And Mambo in Chinatown is a literary New Adult title.


Our library system doesn’t have many new adult titles at this point, but I expect it will be a growth area if it continues to be in the world at large, especially in e-books.  If you’re in that age group or young at heart, keep an eye out for these New Adult books that bring to life those first steps of adulthood.