New Adult couple in a library

I originally wrote this as a comment on a post over at Heroes and Heartbreakers, but I felt as if it deserved a post of its own because so many people in my personal community are talking about NA. This post is slightly modified from that, for both clarification and elaboration.

I can’t deal with NA fiction as a genre because it seems so much a part of the infantalization of America. I didn’t read much YA fiction as a child with the exception of The Outsiders. I went from kids’ books to adult books with no transition…and no problem. But I also got my first job at 15, a job I maintained through high school, and I worked continuously all through college, so when I got out of college, I wasn’t a “new adult,” I’d been an adult for several years.

Lots of people focus on the sexual aspect of NA. I’ve heard it called “YA with sex,” and Laurie Gold, who wrote the post on H&H that prompted this one, mentions that

In all the initial articles I read about New Adult Fiction, eroticism and Fifty Shades of Grey were always mentioned, which struck me as incredibly sad.

Well, yeah, that would strike me as sad, too, but mostly because it sounds as if NA is all about the sex. Sex and women who are doormats, waiting for a stalker/abuser to walk into their lives. Women with no personality of their own.

But plenty of people I respect say NA isn’t just YA with sex. They say it’s a different genre, and, frankly, I couldn’t care less about the sexual aspect. The adult stuff I read in my early teens, or even as what they would now call a “tween,” had sex in it. If kids want to read about sex, that’s between them and their parents. My parents didn’t care and it didn’t scar me forever…and even after reading all the non-consensual sex in the 1980s bodice rippers, I knew rape was wrong. (And reading all that sex didn’t mean I was *having* it…I was, among my crowd, late to the sexual party.)

In the 90s, almost all the romance I read would now be classified “new adult.” The heroines were rarely older than 27, the heroes never over 30. In fact, it got very irritating to me to be reading about them because they fell into one of two categories:

  1. no real life experience, so they were just starting out all wide-eyed and innocent
  2. far more life experience than any 25-year-old could possibly have–you know, the MD, PhD and three years with Doctors Without Borders type.

But now, we seem to have entered an era where people aren’t considered “adults” even in their twenties. They still live at home. They are still trying to figure out what they want to be. And that’s okay. It’s so okay, they even have a literature all their own. It’s true that romance in general seems to have aged up a tiny bit (and thank goodness for that) so that heroines who are doctors are realistically aged for their field, but there are still plenty of books out there for those interested in reading about 20-somethings.

I just feel as if encouraging people not to explore literature beyond their age group by saying “look, here are books specifically for you” does a massive disservice to both readers and the society at large.