New Adult: passing fad or the missing genre?

Since the Young Adult boom, the genre has been struggling to manage its broad reach: is New Adult the answer?


Last year I heard about a genre called New Adult, but the term has been used in the U.S. since 2009 to describe fiction that bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult fiction. At first I scoffed. Did we need this new subset or was it a cynical marketing term? Why would anyone want to be referred to as a new adult? Wasn’t it a bit patronising?

I thought back to the fiction I was reading from age 16 onwards (Martin Amis, Alison Lurie, Fay Weldon) and went on to have some more knee-jerk reactions such as: why can’t the young folk who’ve grown out of YA just walk on over to the Fiction aisles and choose something from there, like we did when we were young (and it was all fields ’round these parts, etc…)?

Just in time I remembered that 16 years old was a long time ago - not to mention the fact that I haven’t ‘grown out of’ YA and read more of it now than I did as a teen. Asking a few current teens and twenty-somethings what they thought about the new genre changed my point-of-view. Yes, they said, they did want to find fiction that spoke more directly to their own experiences. And yes, Young Adult was such a broad term that an older subset would be useful. I started to see how this could work in a bookshop.

It’s true that YA has become very broad, with a reach to match. A recent study showed that 55% of YA buyers are 18 or older, and they’re buying these books for their own reading. Still, all that figure shows is that plenty of adults have recognised the strength of the YA genre and don’t dismiss stories that are about teenagers just because their own teenage years are behind them.

But then I looked at our shelves and found, among many examples, that we were keeping all the Harry Potter books (a series that you might start any time from 8 to 80), alongside new releases like Laura Buzo’s Holier Than Thou, which is about navigating life in your early 20s and could be seen as really unsuitable for the 12 year olds browsing there. Should these books fall under the same umbrella? This was not about censoring but rather about helping customers to navigate a broad genre. And then where did books touted as ‘crossover’ fit into this equation? They often do very well but what if they were given their own physical space?

As a bookseller, navigation is what it’s all about and so the New Adult shelf at our Carlton store was born. Physically as well as content-wise it sits right in between the children’s department and the rest of the store. At the moment it’s just one shelf, but who knows…

At Readings we have our own ideas about what New Adult is. The space between Young Adult and Adult fiction has been filled by many great books already, as well as some exciting new releases. We’d like to highlight those as well because for us New Adult is not just about what people get up to during their first week of university, and it’s not rehashes of Twilight either; it’s stories that recognise that ‘coming-of-age’ doesn’t suddenly end at 16.

I joined forces with Carlton booksellers Leanne Hall and Jason Austin to create a starter list, which you’ll find in the New Adult collection below. There you’ll find new releases like Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Australian writer Annabel Smith, which is about the strength of sibling rivalry and how it follows you from childhood to adulthood; the formerly self-published, now New York Times bestseller Easy by Tammara Webber; books from YA that feature older main characters, such as Melina Marchetta’s wonderful The Piper’s Son, or Where She Went by Gayle Foreman. You’ll also find books that have been really popular on the Adult Fiction shelves like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - stories that readers might otherwise miss out on if they want to move out of YA and aren’t sure where to go next.

Above all, this is intended as a way to help customers find the right book for them.