What is New Adult?

A pretty active topic on blogs, twitters, and even newspapers is something called “New Adult” books.

What is “New Adult,” exactly?

As I’ve thought about this — and don’t worry, I’m getting to it — I’ve decided to split this into multiple posts.

This first post is about the definition of “New Adult,” with links to several posts and articles about the topic.

Next, I’ll blog about what it means, exactly, to have such a definition, with a side of “is there a better name out there.”

Finally, will be a list of books that fit the definition of “New Adult”. And for that, I’ll be relying on you all to suggest titles.

So, what IS “New Adult?” Excellent question. What follows are the answers — but first, I strongly urge you to read all the posts I link to. This is a very hot, current topic; it’s been talked about for several months; there are nuanced discussions going on. Read the full posts to get the full context of what people did or didn’t say.

From Beyond Wizards and Vampires, To Sex at The New York Times: “books that fit into the young-adult genre in their length and emotional intensity, but feature slightly older characters and significantly more sex, explicitly detailed.” So, almost a sub-genre of Young Adult, with “slightly older” characters and sexytimes.

From The Guardian (UK), Would You Read Novels Aimed at “New Adults”?: “That’s the label that has been created for books in which the main characters transform from teenagers into adults and try to navigate the difficulties of post-adolescent life: first love, starting university, getting a job, and so on. The new genre is meant to be for readers aged 14-35.” Well, that’s a bit different! Readers from aged 14 to 35. Instead of “sex,” it’s about “post-adolescent life.” Of 14 and 35 year olds.

From Bookshelvers Anonymous, The New Adult Category Revisited, a persuasive argument that included this: “I’ve talked with friends from college, and very few of us feel like “true” adults. Some of us still live at home. Few of us are completely financially independent. All of us are still going through that weird transition time with our parents. None of us have begun careers in our chosen fields. College, grad school, part-time jobs, and full-time jobs elsewhere for the sake of a paycheck are still very much in the picture. We’re not kids. We’re not happy-go-lucky teens. But we’re not adults either. The law might call us grown up, but we don’t feel grown up, and that’s what New Adult addresses.” Note that this doesn’t include the “sexytimes” from The New York Times. When you read this post in full, do not skip the comments. Persuasive, yes, but I’m not full persuaded as it seems this is a narrow life description for those in the age group mentioned.

The author Diana Peterfreund, at New Adult The 2012 Edition, observes “there’s a name for that kind of fiction [described in The New York Times article and elsewhere.] It’s called a contemporary romance novel.” Peterfreund says quite a bit more, but placing these books within not just the adult fiction realm, but a specific genre, interested me. So I looked to see what the romance bloggers had to say about “New Adult.”

Over at Dear Author, Jane wrote New Adult: It’s not about the sex (but don’t be afraid of the sex either) “New Adult, however, is not just sexed up YA, but an exploration of a time period in a character’s life. The post high school / pre responsible time period” and “New Adult is a time period and a feel — a newly emancipated person on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others. Their whole world is their oyster. The future is a bit more nebulous. The space for experimentation exists and the cast of characters varies widely, not just limited to the over the top billionaire but has room for the pierced, tattooed, low income, and all those in between.” In a way, Jane does what Bookshelvers does, going beyond the s.e.x. and focusing on the content of the books. Both are still tied to ages, though not as expansive as the Guardian.

So, does that clear it up for you? In one sentence, can you tell your friends, students, patrons, coworkers, family, anyone and everyone just what “New Adult” is and isn’t?

I’ve got more for you.

Kelly at Stacked Books, in Some Thoughts On “New Adult” and Also “Cross-Unders“,  goes back to when St. Martin’s Press used this term in 2009 to seek books “featuring stories about characters between 18 and their mid-20s. Note that the goal of seeking books like this was to have books that felt YA but were for the adult market. More information, including the discussion of new adult not being a necessary genre but rather a means of generating more marketable and varied literary fiction for the adult market featuring 20-somethings, can be found here.” This brings this back to YA while noting it’s part of the adult market, adds ages but steps back from listing specific life experiences.

Next I looked at the always smart Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and The New Adult Category: Thoughts and Questions. It gives follow-up to the St. Martin’s Press contest in 2009 that used the “New Adult” first, which I found fascinating. Cause, that’s how I roll. The questions raised are the questions I have, which I’ll talk about more tomorrow (read the blog post in full), but in Clear Eyes answering those questions they said this: “So, we see here that there’s a significant gap in the experiences represented in both YA and adult fiction, the 18-30 range. And this is a pretty interesting time in people’s lives. Personally, I’d love to see more work set in college, because that environment is ripe with great stories. But, I’m not convinced that that age range cannot be served by the existing categories. YA has reached up to encompass stories about older characters’ experiences and adult fiction has explored younger-than-normal characters’ lives.” So, while it doesn’t technically say “this is a definition of “New Adult”,” it does address what would be found in “New Adult” books. The age range pushes out to 30 (but not quite 35).

Word for Teen took this up in Sex, Explicit Sex, and Young Adult Novels. Word for Teen doesn’t talk about “New Adult,” but I felt it was important to have this post included because it’s a reminder that YA does not fade to black when it comes to sex; and often takes a nuanced look at sex. I’m a bit amused I include that book banners and censors are appalled at what they believe is too much sex in teen books; and here is (according to The New York Times) a genre saying there isn’t enough sex. Moral of the story is one can never win.

I’ll end my roundup of posts with an interview the ever brilliant Andrew Karre gave over at Mitali Perkin’s Mitali’s Fire Escape blog this past September: “My (admittedly meager) understanding of what’s meant by “new adult” is that it’s an audience description (I’ve seen 14-35, and that is preposterous)—something akin to a TV demographic. This is a great way to sell advertising (I guess), but I think it’s a s***** way to make art. For me, genres are campfires around which artists gather, not ways of understanding an audience for art or entertainment. I think there easily could be a bonfire to be built around the shifting definition of adulthood. I think that’s a real cultural phenomenon, but it needs to come from the writers not the marketers.”


What is the definition of “New Adult”? If possible, I’d like to keep this as narrow as possible in defining what “New Adult” is, or isn’t. As to whether it’s a genre, a category, a niche area of romance or young adult, something from marketeers or from readers — I’d like to focus on that in my next blog post, with comments there.

So, it seems to me that “New Adult” has characters from 18 to 29. It’s people in a time period that is after the perceived safety and narrowness and  intimacy of high school — and by intimacy I mean, having a physical place where everyone goes and shares lunch times and has common experiences of classrooms and lunch times. I say perceived, because that’s not always true.

I’ll confess, one of my pet peeves about some YA books is just how “together” certain characters are at the end, just how much they have “figured out” because, well, real life doesn’t work like that. Your high school boyfriend is not the forever love; high school seniors don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives. I get being frustrated with that in YA , and understand wanting books that show people at 23 don’t have it all figured out.

Here, now, is my problem with defining “New Adult”. People are figuring out their lives well past the age of 29. Ask anyone, like me, who has made a change of careers. Or someone who has gone to college later in life. Or who has been in a relationship for a decade or more who suddenly finds themselves without that partner and no idea how to set up utilities because their partner did that.

At the same time, you hit 18, and like it or not, life figured out or not, you’re a legal adult. Contracts, voting, marriage, criminal justice — adult. Doesn’t matter whether or not someone is figuring out life or not, life goes on.

At this point, I have to say “New Adult” reminds me of a show I both like and don’t like at the same time: Girls on HBO. Where Hannah and her friends are, seems to be the place that these New Adult books would be set.

And then I come to Andrew’s point: is “New Adult” more a description of audience than of content? I think this is part of my difficulty in coming up with a definition. To cycle back to Girls, while it’s about twentysomethings, it’s a show that has appeal beyond twentysomethings. Otherwise I wouldn’t be watching it. Can an audience define a genre?

Still no answers. Many questions.

How do you define “New Adult”? And do you want to share any other blog posts or articles that talk about “New Adult”?


33 thoughts on “What is New Adult?

  1. I think the post-high-school transition time would fit. Examples: the summer immediately after gradation: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour and The Story of Us by Deb Caletti; the first year of college: the Body of Evidence series by Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala and Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn.

    My favorite line in Body Bags by Christopher Golden is the first line of the first chapter, as the protagonist, Jenna, is in the car on the way to college:
    “It was a beautiful day to grow up.”

    Love that. Love it.


  2. I’m not sure what it is, but I know what I want it to be. Stories that focus on that time that starts after graduation from high school, until about 25. With a few exceptions, this time period seems to only be explored in chicklit books (and by chicklit, I mean the formulaic romances that are the romcoms of the print world). And I’ve never understood WHY. I wanted authors like Judy Blume, who got me through the craziness of high school, to help get me through those first few years on my own. It’s such a time of change and uncertainty–it’s rife with story! I want it to go beyond the formulaic romance of the contemporary romance novel– there’s a lot more to life than that and it’s time that the print world started reflecting that.

    If we need to create a label and marketing department to make it happen, then let’s do it.


  3. I’ve only just come upon this phenomenon within the last week or so, but it seems to me like this new adult genre is a lot like the much more blush-inducing category of chick lit (much like Diana Peterfreund said). Based on the titles listed in the articles referenced, I don’t get a sense that “new adult” is showcasing any stories that fall out of bounds of what I would consider to be chick lit. This seems like a marketing ploy to me that will give adults a pass on shamefully having to browse the YA and chick lit stacks. New Adult sounds a lot hipper and almost academic in nature than the previous two genres, thus removing the embarrassment factor for shoppers and library patrons.

    I think going to the trouble to create this genre undercuts young adult literature (and children’s literature for that matter). All literature has value. All of this categorization just brings people down and creates divisions. Certainly when serving the youth market one has to be cognizant of developmental appropriateness and also content. However, YA has become possibly more than it was intended to be. Because it’s proven to be such a huge market, I think many novels that otherwise would have been marketed to adults are being marketed as YA books.

    I think people read what’s in front of them, and YA is a hot new genre right now. I’ve read plenty of YA that struck me as adult in nature, but when I was 13 I read adult books. There was no YA when I was a kid. I think creating “new adult” is just putting a label on things kids are already reading anyway. Adults just now have “permission” to do so as well because it’s no longer in the teen section…


  4. NA to me sounds like Bridget Jones – part chicklit, part older YA. Twenty-somethings not quite settled with all things. Sounds like something ripe to be explored in more detail in fiction, but it’s a genre that should grow out of what’s been written ,rather than shoehorning books into this new, marketable genre. I worry otherwise that the books won’t fit and the genre will be a laughing stock, because there will be nothing to really support it. That and I would wonder if any books shoved into the NA market in attempt to start it up would suffer as a result of being classed as the wrong genre.

    I think the genre is ready to grow, but not to be started, in short 🙂


  5. LW, great suggestions! My post for Sunday (if I finish it in time) will be resources & suggestions to find books so I’ll include those.

    Jennie, it seems like 2 different things are going on: what people want it to be and what it is. (Plus, no real agreement even there to be honest). Judy Blume writing for this age group — hm. Interesting way of putting it and I like it. I also wonder what out there does fit that (and for right now, when I talk about what books are out there, it’s much like LW in that I want to look at books that also don’t self-define as “NA”).

    Kristin, wow. so many smart observations. Yes, yes, yes. What you say about categorization really fits what I think.

    BooKaUhu, I think Bridget’s “still working out her life” fits some of these definitions, if you remove her age (30s). But to me t hat just goes to show that figuring things out is ageless. And how interesting that Bridget started, roughly, the chicklit craze and now NA is being compared to ChickLit. Same content, different label, with slightly younger protag? And “yes” to grow out of what’s being written.


  6. I think I just associate NA with chicklit because I associate it both with YA (which does still seem rather girl-friendly titles orientated, although it’s got better) and with certain titles in particular that have gained a (predominantly) female audience (ahem! Twilight! ahem!). What I’d like to see it as is Judy Blume for Grown Ups, as Jennie mentioned above. There are some YA books that if it weren’t for the age of the characters would easily fit into this, and I’m a firm believer that some YA fiction if the ages were changed could be happily read by adults. I can’t help thinking though that NA will be lumped in with Twilight etc just as in the first article and a lot of good books will get rubbished alongside.

    As to people not figuring out as an ageless thing? Damn, there go my hopes of sorting myself out anytime soon – I’m the precise demographic that NA is (in theory) aimed at and could have done with some of that! :p


    1. it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out — will it be mainly contemporary relationships? or something else?


  7. Elizabeth, what a thorough post about “New Adult.” It’s certainly a hot topic, but few have done as solid as a job as you have in describing and defining the scope. Your post is a great read!


    1. the post high school time is interesting, in that there is plenty of YA that falls into that gap. What is it about “not yet college” that keeps it YA?


  8. Thinking more about what some of those articles and some readers seem to be describing as either what they see as New Adult or what they want New Adult to be, I find that this dialogue opens up the possibility of marketing MANY classics to readers looking for books about people between the ages of 18 and 30 who are “figuring things out.”

    I don’t like to force classics on readers in lieu of new books on a regular basis because people tend to see them as dated, and let’s face it – some of them are. This method also tends to reinforce the idea among people (not just teens) that reading is something you did for homework, when you tried your hardest and failed to swallow Dickens, Chaucer, Steinbeck, etc.

    But… couched in the right framework, librarians could breathe new life into many classics readers previously might have stayed away from because of preconceived notions about what they think these books might deal with. I don’t think people realize New Adult is already out there, whether it’s present in the current contemporary fiction market or within the realm of classics. And, if you look at some of the books out there in YA now that are re-imagining classics, you could pair a retelling with the classic that inspired it.

    Some classic food for thought…

    Anything by Jane Austen, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, about half of Virginia Woolf’s catalog, all of Jack Kerouac’s novels, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, most works by Thomas Hardy, some Dickens, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky…

    I’m leaving a lot out. Anyone else have any ideas? Or perhaps retellings that would go with classics?


    1. Kristin, I also tsee this as being full of opportunities; its part of the reason I’m interested in a description beyond the handful of titles currently being marketed by publishers as NA.


  9. NA might just be the answer to the story that’s been harassing my brain for the past few years. I’ve been feeling compelled to write a story based on things I felt/experienced/witnessed/thought about during college and the 8-10 years post college, but I read a lot of YA and I KNOW for certain it doesn’t fit in YA. I mostly DON’T read adult Fic, mainly because what I have read feels so distant from and unrelated to my own life experiences during that time, how I felt about myself, and how I perceived the world in general.
    My opinion (which counts for little, in this instance), is that this “new” catagory would more appropriately be termed Young Adult, and all the other books that we’ve been CALLING Young Adult fiction for so long have been inappropriately categorized. The current YA books should have a different category title, or maybe more than one! – Teen and Tween?? Youth and Young Adult?? I’ve never really been satisfied that “Young Adult” is the proper descriptor for titles in a section that is marketed to people ranging in age from 11-19. (And in recent years, marketed to adults, too!!) Nor have I ever been convinced that we should lump together titles that are appropriate for 11- to 13-year-olds with titles that are appropriate for 17- to 19-year-olds. There is a world of difference in interest level and subject matter appropriateness, IMO.


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