So… I very recently buddy-read Leisa Rayven’s Bad Romeo with the lovely Kim from Dreaming of Espresso and Michelle from Undeniably Book Nerdy. It was one of my more recent New Adult reads, and while I didn’t like it (for reasons that Ari from The Daydreaming Bookworm accurately predicted below), it got me thinking about the genre itself.
— Ari (@thedreamingworm) July 13, 2016
On the Goodreads page, New Adult is defined as fiction that focuses on issues prevalent in the young adult genre as well as issues experienced by individuals between the area of childhood and adulthood, such as leaving home for university and getting a job. For my part, however, I’ve come to strongly associate the New Adult genre as something that is incredibly focused on romance and sex — and only sometimes touches upon themes of self-discovery, job-hunting, and career-finding.
I think this association might have to do with two things, the first being that at a glance, plenty of NA covers feature images you typically think of as sexy: couples kissing or about to kiss, topless guys with six-pack abs, bedroom scenes. The second reason, I think, is that the blurbs of many popular NA books often imply a strong focus on love and relationships.
But is that all NA stands for? Is that all NA can stand for? Here are some of the things I’d personally like — and what I hope we see more of — in this genre in the future:
1) Developing parent-child relationships.
One of the biggest conflicts in my life as I embrace adulthood (and occasionally avoid it) is my changing relationship with my parents.
I come from extremely strict, extremely traditional Asian parents who still, to this day, caution to me that sex is shameful, that an unmarried woman’s worth is reduced once she ‘allows’ a man to have sex with her, that relationships before marriage should stop at holding hands (literally). Their staunch stance on sex and sexuality is only one of the many things we disagree on, and my parents struggle a lot with accepting that my adult self didn’t adopt 100% of their values, just as I struggle, also a lot, with being myself in the midst of their disapproval.
The truth is, parent-child relationships generally change as the child develops. When the child is an adult, I like to think that a parent’s role starts moving away from being a ‘parent’ and more to an ‘advisor’. How do the parents react to this kind of role? How does the child? How else does their relationship change over time? It’s this kind of exploration I’d like to see in NA fiction.
2) Changing friendships.
I’ve learned, kind of the hard way, that friendships don’t last forever. My high school best friend I now only talk to on birthdays and other special occasions, despite living in the same city, whereas my current closest friends are all people I had never really expected to be in my life.
I’d like to see friendships change in NA fiction. Maybe the protagonist struggles with making friends, or maybe she struggles with keeping them. Maybe she has forgotten that friendships, like relationships, need time and effort. Maybe her life and the friend’s life start becoming incompatible, and they naturally drift apart. Regardless of the scenario, I think it’s important to give voice to this part of adulthood — it is, after all, a big part.
3) Career uncertainties.
I don’t know about you, but I am FOREVER confused as to which career path in life I’m supposed to take. I have a great job that I enjoy, but it doesn’t mean that I’m 100% certain this is what I want to be doing in 20 years.
The NA books that I’ve read generally have passionate protagonists who are already very sure of themselves or at least have a direction they’re already pursuing. Where’s the self-discovery? Where’s the “omg, what am I going to do with my life”?
I’d like to see protagonists either struggle to find their passion, or if they’ve found it, struggle with boredom, confusion or doubt, just like real life. I’d also like to see protagonists realise that it is, frankly, OK if they don’t have every single thing figured out, just like real life. Real people are often uncertain, and I’d like to see that reflected in NA fiction.
4) Post-get-together relationship troubles.
In my experience, fictional romance generally focuses on how two characters get together: how they fall in love, how they overcome what stops them from being together, and how they ultimately confess their feelings for one another and embark on a presumably Happily Ever After relationship.
I’d like to see relationships exploring obstacles that happen after the get-together — issues such as:
- Reasonable doubt: “This person is super kind and sweet, but will I still find his beard REALLY CUTE in 30 years? Are they really the person for me?”
- Potentially incompatible life choices: “This otherwise perfect person HAS to live in the countryside, but I can’t be happy outside the city. What do? What is an acceptable compromise?”
- Day-to-day arguments: “Why can’t they just WASH THE DISHES without me nagging? I’ve already vacuumed!”
- Communication breakdown: “When I say A, sometimes they hear it as B. How can I say A and make sure that they actually understand my meaning?”
5) Realistic portrayals of sex.
This isn’t something that only NA is guilty of — I think romance novels are also pretty guilty of it, but maybe 99% of the fictional sex scenes I’ve read are smooth-sailing and mind-blowing. Orgasms always happen, and usually at the same time for all parties involved. Birth control is always available, fully functional, or often unaddressed. Men are always ready to go, 24/7, 365, and have no problem maintaining their erection.
Of course, ‘perfect’ sex has a place in fiction, but I think we also need to make space for realistic sex. Sometimes sex is messy. Sometimes it’s really awkward. Sometimes things don’t go as they should. Not having these portrayals, I think, can raise unrealistic expectations for sex in real life, and that’s harmful.
Do you read New Adult books? Why or why not? What kinds of things would you like to see more of? 😀