Monday, January 27, 2014

New Adult

“New Adult” is a fairly recent term in literature that’s old news to some bibliophiles and still breaking headlines for many other readers. Some think it’s a great concept and others unnecessary. I fall in the former category, but first a definition: have you ever read a book that you thought could be categorized as either young adult or adult? That’s New Adult. People already use the term “crossover appeal” and this is an extension of that phrase. In terms of age, the protagonist is often college or early twenties and thematically we’re talking conflicts that ride a line between teenage and adult problems. Usually these are books that can and do sell to both markets.

While I say I’m entirely on board with “New Adult,” I should specify: for terminology but not shelving. I think it’s great to have a specific term for those books that almost slip between the cracks of target age range, as well as a label that expressly markets something as having crossover appeal. However, I definitely do not think New Adult needs a special shelf of its own in bookstores, libraries, etc. That would be a third potential category to put something and, thus, confuse readers about where they should be looking. And for that matter, if New Adult is the grey area between Young Adult and regular Fiction, well, where do we draw the line at subcategories? There are even more grey areas in between Young Adult and New Adult. Are we going to come up for a new label for those books about which we can’t decide whether it has enough crossover appeal to merit a New Adult label? So my opinion on New Adult: useful term for reviews and discussion but I sure hope we don’t start pulling novels from existing categories for an entirely new shelf!

Some examples of New Adult books:

CODE NAME VERITY by ELIZABETH WEIN: Most likely shelved in Young Adult simply due to the teenage heroine, but said heroine is an Allied spy capture by the Gestapo. Needless to say…intense themes about war. Plenty of adults have been reading this book, too, as well as selecting it for discussion in their book groups.

NINETEEN MINUTES by JODI PICOULT: The author alternates perspectives in this novel about a school shooting. Some main characters are teenagers and others adult, but the core conflict revolves around this extreme act of violence at a high school. I’ve seen this in both Young Adult and Fiction sections.  

PREP by CURTIS SITTENFELD: This controversial novel stars a teenage girl at a prep school, but usually finds itself shelved in adult fiction for the mature sexual themes.

Those are merely a few titles that exemplify how this New Adult label does indeed fill a demand in describing a book. What are your thoughts on New Adult? Any books you think fall into this subcategory?


  1. This post was very useful... I've been trying to figure out my book's target audience!

  2. I just returned from a literature conference where an editor presented a definition of New Adult that really cracked me up: "Everyone wants to talk about it...and it does not exist!"