The Young, The New, and the Restless by Rebecca Howard

Do you read New Adult (NA) fiction? Although coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009, I’ve only begun regularly hearing and seeing this phrase in the past year or so.  New Adult fiction is touted as a way of bridging the gap between Young Adult (YA) and Adult Fiction.  Characters are generally between the ages of 18-26 and are experiencing “new adult” kind of things—going away to college, beginning a career, a serious relationship. I’ll confess that my first response to this new classification was “oh, that genre already exists: it’s called adult fiction.”  I mean, what’s next:  “Middle-aged fiction” or “Women’s Fiction.”  Oh, wait. (See Meg Wolizter’s brilliant New Yorker piece for an examination of THAT issue.)  

As useful as genre is to help people find books, it can be extremely limiting to readers as well. The decision to characterize something as Young Adult or Adult is so arbitrary. Why is Ransom Riggs’ novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children categorized as YA and not Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? What about the wonderful coming-of-age stories that feature young protagonists who are in their teens?  I’m thinking of two fabulous debut novels--Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell.  These titles are what we book pushers call crossover novels. 

I love the word crossover, because it kind of defies categorization. I’m imagining a book moving from shelf to shelf unable to be pinned down! Librarians love categorization, and I’m no exception. But, we also love discovery.  Isn’t it nice to discover a really amazing book that was shelved in a genre that you normally never read?  The Young Adult Library Services Association gives the Alex Award to ten books that were written for adults but with special interest to young adults ages 12 to 18. 

But, what about those Young Adult novels that merit a wider readership?  I don’t really read a lot of YA fiction, but there are some authors and titles with appeals that transcend genre.  I’ve blogged about David Levithan before and his deceptively simple and poetic book The Lover’s Dictionary, but most of his books are shelved in the Young Adult section, including Two Boys Kissing, his most recent title.  A previous generation of men narrates the novel, acting as the chorus in a Greek play or the dead in Our Town.  They are a generation lost to AIDS, describing themselves as “your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother’s or your grandmother’s best friend from college . . . We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out” (3). 

This short novel is full of passages like the one above—profound meditations on death and loss, yes, but also on living, celebrating, kissing, dancing and freedom.  Older teens will read and love this book, but adults need to read it, too, particularly those of us who are old enough to remember AIDS when it looked like Dallas Buyers Club and ACT UP demonstrations.  Those of us who have empty chairs at family dinners.  Those of us who hope that this previous generation is somehow able to feel our fierce gratitude and immense love.




Thanks for the comments, Leah. I notice that many are tagging/shelving items as "New Adult" on Goodreads. Could be interesting to see how other readers are thinking about this label!

I really like the idea of New Adult fiction, although I can see how such a categorization can be problematic. As someone who works with teens, I sometimes want to be able to provide a list for those of my patrons who are in a "crossover" stage themselves, between high school and college and looking for something that tells their story. Crossover novels, like the ones you mentioned, (I LOVE Tell the Wolves I'm Home) are useful in this instance, as well as the Alex Award winners and nominees. But I sometimes wish I could come up with a unified section or list of authors for these patrons! The New Adult "genre" is new enough that I don't really have a go-to list to guide my recs (or my own reading). However, also as someone who deals a lot with YA fiction, I am super-happy that you raise the point that YA is often a label that unnecessarily deters readers from finding their next favorite book!

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