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New Adult Is The New Black

by Claire Blevins

Claire Blevins is a University of Alabama graduate with degrees in journalism and creative writing. She now works as a marketing director in Atlanta, GA, and she enjoys cookies, books, and long walks on the beach.

Picture a bookstore in your mind. Tall shelves, the scent of new books, the quiet murmuring of employees… and you pick up a book with a pretty cover. A title written in elegant script above the author’s name in a large san serif font don the front of a novel about the width of a knuckle, the back cover detailing a synopsis of a married main character with a dark secret, a town’s mysterious disappearance, and an elusive spouse of nine years. 

That book doesn’t sound interesting enough. You move to the Young Adult section, hoping to get lucky with another The Hunger Games-esque page-turner that allows  you to escape the trauma of real life. But instead, all you see is books about sixteen-year-olds fighting a curse where two fit, witty love interests battle for the main character’s attention while they’re trying to provide for their impoverished family of eight. You don’t have to read the blurb to know the main character struggles with their adolescence, feeling the excitement of a first love and the sorrow of a tough loss. 

There’s nothing you see between the two. Either the main character is long married or they’re not even old enough to be out of high school, and you’re caught in the middle. Too young for one genre, but you’ve outgrown the other.

Enter New Adult fiction, a developing genre that is used to describe books for the 18-30 age bracket. When the genre originated nearly ten years ago, the description mostly encompassed books that included graphic sex scenes or strong language – Young Adult, but not exactly. Authors Colleen Hoover and Jamie McGuire were the face of the New Adult genre, self-publishing their own books that were rejected by publishers for not fitting in a target category. As more authors did the same, publishers began to realize that they could reach a broader audience with the term, and suddenly 20-somethings had books that represented their lifestyles. With themes like leaving home, beginning careers, developing sexuality, evolving morality, and long-term familial thoughts, the New Adult genre markets to readers who had long been left in the gap between Young Adult and Adult. 

The genre is more than a marketing scheme for publishing houses: though New Adult does capture the post-Young Adult reader and keep them for a longer amount of time, the books in this category not only maintain readership but also help 18-30 year olds navigate the emotional and political growth that comes with growing up. The trails of real life merge with the goings-on of fiction, offering guidance beneath the facade of escapism found in plots of romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, or any combination of other genres

For example, Sarah J. Maas’s bestselling fantasy series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, deals with themes of abuse, mental health, abandonment, and family all while operating under the guise of a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and later a Hades and Persephone retelling. 

Casey McQuiston’s extremely popular romance, Red, White, and Royal Blue is a tried-and-true story of fake friendships and enemies-to-lovers – but both of the protagonists are men. Set among the American First Family and the British Royals, a queer relationship takes a much-needed spotlight in modern literature as elements of the book struggle with sexuality, prejudice, racism, politics, and touches on socioeconomics. 

New Adult was a necessary step for publishers to take, especially after the boom of Young Adult books in the mid-2000s read by mother and daughter alike: Twilight, Harry Potter, The Fault In Our Stars, Divergent… the list goes on. All of those titles have been adapted to film, indicating the power of the Millennial/Gen Z market. It would be foolish for publishing houses not to adapt to their aging audience, especially as those same readers grew to make their own money and make spending choices without the overwatch of a parent. As the world moves forward, it’s important that all forms of media ensure each age group is represented, but especially those moving into adulthood who are fighting to be heard amid minors and established adults. 

Next time you’re at the bookstore, wander to the New Adult section. Pick up a book with a pretty cover, one with a dagger wrapped in shadows and the title in a bold font, about the width of a finger. Follow the tall shelves to the check-out counter, and see what the characters can do for you.

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