The Imaginary Line or Why Young Adult Readers Need NA
Let me start off by saying that I am in no way an expert on the New Adult genre. I won a few NA books a while back and they are currently sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read. That said - take everything I say with a grain of salt.
There are a lot of interesting tweets circulating on twitter surrounding New Adult, if you want to get caught up on everything that's being said just hashtag New Adult and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Being 18 and a college freshman, I have had to come to terms with the fact that in the YA world, I'm an adult. Sure there are 18 year olds who are seniors in high school, but the stories about those teens are limited, just as (at the time) the stories about those same teens who go off to college were close to nonexistant. I always wanted to read stories about kids in college. Even when I was in 10th grade I found college life fascinating, and maybe it was a 'different life', maybe people in college have totally different experiences than me, a high schooler, but I never looked at it like that.
I knew from the moment I started high school that I was going to go to college and part of me knew that their life, would one day be my life. Maybe I wouldn't experience EVERYTHING they experienced, but being in college is way different from being in high school. It's this strange world where you're still a teen in every since of the word, but you're forced to make 'adult decisions' because for one, if you're living on campus, you're miles away from home and every choice you make is on you, especially if you're 18.
Once you realize that, life becomes really scary because even though you have teen tacked on to the end of your age, you're an adult, and from the time you start college to time you finish it - people will treat you like an adult even though you might not feel like one.
People have a lot of issues with NA. They say that it's a genre that caters mostly to romance and sexytimes and...if you want to look at it that way, then fine, do so. It's just, why does that have to be an issue? One of the things that has bothered me about YA (and let me tell you, I love the genre to pieces) is that even though YA's intended audience is teens, YA is dominated by adult readers/writers/publishers etc.
In no way am I saying that this is a bad thing. In no way am I saying that adults shouldn't read or write YA. Everyone can read YA, that's the beauty of the genre. I'm just saying that when it's marketed as a genre 'for teens' and adults get to decide exactly what these books look like in terms of the content such as sex, violence etc. that feels very wrong to me.
Teens are not stupid. The idea that sex and violence falls under the 'adult content' umbrella in YA doesn't sit right with me because there is no such thing as an imaginary line, and if you cross it by putting sex and violence in your YA book that you intended for teens to read, your book doesn't automatically become an adult book.
For people who believe that, or are under the impression that teens don't have/watch/read or know about explicit sex, and don't know anything that is ANYTHING about violence, then not only are you offending the intelligence of teens who read YA, but you're attacking the entire Adult fiction genre.
Having violence and explicit sex doesn't make a book an Adult book, just as having a book with a 16 year old protagonist doesn't make the book YA
I think, in order for people to understand New Adult and accept it as a genre, they're going to have to figure out what Young Adult and Adult fiction is, in terms of what makes up both genres and why a book in both genres gets classified as Young Adult or Adult.
So, yeah, like I said earlier college is NOT high school. People who are in college now or have been out of college for a while should know that. But one thing I can tell you that I know to be true, is that college kids are not adults yet...mentally. Parties happen a lot, people get drunk, pranks are played, and when people aren't studying or doing homework, life is one big explosion of fun. It has to be. College is extremely stressful, and the only way to make it NOT stressful is to have fun. My friends and I go out on the weekends, we watch movies, and play card games, just to alleviate stress and let me tell you something...we act like big kids in the process. The only difference between me and a high schooler is...I can't be a kid all the time. There are moments where I have to be mature, and worry about my actions etc. etc.
This is not to say that once you start college you wake up one morning feeling like you're an adult and you're mature and you're no longer the kid you were in high school. No that is not what happens. But let me tell you what does. Just like any other coming-of-age story, you're learning about who you are, and the person you want to become. You're stuck in between teenager-dom and adulthood, not quite a teen, but not an adult yet either. College is new, uncharted territory and that is why I think young adult readers need NA. Just as YA got many teens through high school, NA will get many of those same teens through college and that awkward stage in their life when, in the words of J. M. Barrie they're in a 'place between sleep and awake'.
Most of us are walking around with our eyes closed, in the sense that we don't know everything about life yet because being on our own and making our own decisions is still so new to us, but that doesn't mean we're blind to the fact that we have to grow up sooner or later.
I don't want to read a book about what it's like for a mother of three who's going through a divorce. I don't want to read a book about a middle-aged man who is looking for his long lost son. Not sure if these are real books (most likely they're not), the point is I don't want to read books about 'old adult' characters until it's relevant to my life.
Another thing I want to point out before I end this post is that NA shouldn't just be about the college experience, just as YA isn't all about the high school experience. As the genre flourishes, I hope to see more books where the characters aren't in college and have to deal with the challenges of not going to school. Also, I want to see more NA books that are not set in a contemporary world. If YA and Adult fiction can explore different subgenres, then NA should be able to do the same thing.
As a side note, if you're concerned with the way NA is now, the only way to fix that is to write it the way you think it should be. Don't just sit around and put down an entire genre, especially if you're a writer and have the power to help shape it into something great. YA didn't become the force it is today without different writers saying 'I don't like the way YA is now' and 'this is how I think YA should be written'.
Thanks for reading!