Defining New Adult

I don’t write New Adult, though I have read some of it, and for what it’s worth, I wanted to weight in on the debates about the definition of the genre and its legitimacy.

Jane, founder and contributor to the influential romance review and discussion site Dear Author, defined New Adult back in December as “not just sexed up YA, but an exploration of a time period in a character’s life” and “a newly emancipated person on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others.” In other words, for Dear Author, New Adult is about an outlook on life containing a specific narrative structure.

In some ways, this definition overlaps with that of woman’s fiction. Literary critic Nina Baym, in a discussion of nineteenth-century American women’s novels in her book Woman’s Fiction, describes this trajectory thusly, “The thrust of this fiction has to do … with how the heroine perceives herself. … By the novel’s end she has developed a strong conviction of her own worth” (19). So both woman’s fiction and New Adult seem to be buildings romans or self-actualization narratives.

There was an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday about whether New Adult has an upper age limit. Is, for example, Allison Parr’s Rush Me — which I read and liked with reservations — a New Adult book because the hero is 26? I think Rush Me is a bit of a liminal example, not because of the hero’s age but because I didn’t see growth from the characters. It ended with a commitment to change but didn’t show the change on the page.

Regardless, I think the hostility toward New Adult is interesting. It seems to be motivated by the sense that New Adult is a marketing trick, that many of the founding texts are just smutty young adult, and that many of the most popular writers in the genre aren’t very good.

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