It’s difficult to predict where a genre as new as New Adult will go next.
The fledgling category, coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press, so far has been regulated mostly to romance novels staring college-aged heroines (think EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, or Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster—two extremely popular New Adult novels that focus on women coming into adulthood primarily through their romantic relationships). But other New Adult (NA) novels—horror, sci-fi, paranormal, and fantasy—have started popping up more frequently, expanding not just the readership for NA, but how we define it in the first place.
No one is more aware of this than horror author Asher Ellis, whose debut novel, The Remedy, was recently released with Full Fathom Five Digital. The Remedy is being marketed as both horror and New Adult. At the center of the story is Leigh Swanson, a college coed who reluctantly decides to go on a spring break trip to Canada with her roommates and their boyfriends. With Leigh already feeling like a fifth wheel, the trip takes a turn for the worse when the group decides to detour through the Vermont forest on the way home. It’s in those woods that they find a deadly fungus just waiting to infect passersby. But that’s not the only threat, as the reader quickly learns that the remedy might be even worse than the disease.
Ellis has always understood the appeal of writing in this specific age group. “When you reach your 20s, you’re in control of your own life for the first time ever,” he said. “The average 20-something hasn’t lived long enough to be fully prepared for everything life could throw at them, and isn’t that exactly the setup for any horror story? A character is forced to confront the unknown.”
It makes sense, which is why it seems strange that up until now, NA has most commonly been associated with romance novels—especially because speculative authors have been writing college-aged characters for years. From Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Star Wars, many of the protagonists we see in famous horror or sci-fi stories are in their early 20s. “The rhetoric of modern society tells us that it’s practically a 20-something’s job to let loose and have fun . . . Marriage, children, careers—these things are often perceived as a monster lurking in the shadows,” Ellis says. “It’s no surprise to me that so many horror writers, including myself, have run with this idea and used it as a vehicle for their stories.”
With the advent of the NA genre, speculative writers like Ellis are finding a wider audience for their work. “The broad definition of NA fiction is its greatest strength,” Ellis says. “Highlighting the NA side of my novel may remind a potential reader that there are characters in this book they relate to, and when the blood starts to flow, a reader may actually care who’s losing it.”
So while New Adult might not be a revolutionary distinction in speculative fiction, it’s still an important new genre to define and explore. “The term ‘adult’ does not mean the same thing for 20-somethings as it does for people in their 30s, 40s, and beyond,” Ellis says. “Why are we so careful to differentiate between audiences teenage and younger, but suddenly everyone becomes the same when they reach 20 years old?” It’s a fair question about how we categorize novel genres, and one that NA will hopefully help to answer as it continues to expand and grow.
In the meantime, Ellis sees the relationship between NA and horror as almost symbiotic. “Horror is never wasted on the young. Their lack of experience makes the ride that much scarier.” Regardless of your age, it’s something to keep in mind next time you find yourself looking for a new NA novel to read—or on a deadly road trip in the backwoods of Vermont.