Let’s Talk: The New Adult Genre

Let's-Talk-The-New-Adult-Genre

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.

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.

New-Adult-Releases-Goodreads

Recent New Adult releases on Goodreads.

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.

cool mum mean girlsI 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.

end of an eraI’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.

100% certain 0% sureThe 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?”taylor-swift-love-story-real
  • 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 neil patrick harris err yeah noparties 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? 😀

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83 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: The New Adult Genre

  1. I don’t read NA as a book reviewer (as in I don’t post reviews on my blog), but I do occasionally read New Adult (extra stress on occasionally). The reasons why I rarely do is because of everything you highlighted in your article, but I do want to try to find some NA that is more diverse with its topics. As far as I’ve seen, the content of NA is explicit scenes, dirty talking, and a lot of unnecessary uses of the word “heat,” which doesn’t interest me. Great post!

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    • I don’t really review NA books as well, but I have read a couple… and yeah, like you said, they’re not really diverse thematically and generally focus only on the sex/relationships of the characters. It’s really too bad.

      Apologies for the late reply, by the way! I completely missed this comment, haha. Do you have any recommendations for NA books that feature any of these elements I mentioned, by any chance?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, I might have ONE. Since the time I commented on your post, I read a NA book that wasn’t focused on sex, but instead family, family issues, friendships, pressures of adulthood, and etc. The only thing was that its a romance between a human and a robot, which isn’t my normal cup of tea. It was an ARC, but it comes out this Thursday, it’s called This is Me by C.E. Wilson. I’m searching for NA (between two humans haha) to read that’s more than just “heavy-lidded eyes” and lustful stares and once I find one, I’ll let you know!

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  2. Awesome post, I really like how you relate your life to what could be possible on the page to get a more concrete idea of why you prefer more of these 5 things. In particular the roles of parents was great, stories have tremendous potential in showing people what a possible ideal could be in a child-parent relationship. I think it’s important to show good parents who can learn to come to terms with how much of an individual their child will become, thus not adapting their beliefs and traditions 100% as they grow up. Seems to be a common occurence most especially between Baby Boomers and Millenials.

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    • Thanks so much, Marlon! Yeah – I mean, I don’t need a book to be relatable to love it, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to read about the things I’ve experienced (and am experiencing) in fiction. 😛

      And that’s the exact scenario that I’m picturing! It might be hard to write about because, er, how many times you can write about the same argument over and over and still have it be interesting? But I think it’s an important issue and much more common than what we’re seeing currently.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. YES YES YES to everything on that post, I love it! I will admit it, I don’t read New Adult books because I have this image (probably not totally true, I’m sure) of New Adult being focused a lot on romance and sex, from all the synopsis, and covers I have seen and read. However, I absolutely love all of the topics you bring out right here, and I would love for some of these themes to me more explored in the genre, especially the career and self-discovery path, with all the struggles coming with it, and the friendships / relationships growing apart, back together again, etc etc.

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    • I am TOTALLY guilty of the same thing, Marie! I think it’s all those covers (even more than the blurbs) – topless men, women in racy poses, etc. – that turn me off, haha. I would definitely love to see these things in all books, actually, NA or not, but I feel like NA would be the best genre to have these in just because the age of the protagonist is typically an age where these things come to light. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    • For me there are definitely a few NA authors/books that I love, The Off-Campus Series being one of those, but I’ve never really felt inclined to try another. I think most feels like just romance stories… and while those are enjoyable during certain times, usually I need just a bit more than that. 😂

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  4. What a great discussion post! I love New Adult (it’s basically all I have read this year) but also agree with so much of what you said. I personally would like to see more New Adult Fantasy novels or dystopian. It needs to develop into more than just romance before it gets stuck.

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    • Thanks so much! I have an on/off relationship with New Adult – I don’t read that much, but when the mood strikes, it’s all I want to read for a while. I just read the Cyclone books from Courtney Milan and I was so into it. 😂

      I see what you mean! But I think fantasy novels with characters above, hmm, 18-20 years old tend to just be categorised as “adult fantasy” or “fantasy” rather than “NA fantasy”. The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, for example… unless you’re talking about having specific elements of NA in NA fantasy as well? 🤔

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