The literary world is a vast and ever-expanding place, where new genres and terms are constantly being invented and developed. “New Adult,” or NA, is a fairly broad genre that’s defined mostly by the age group it revolves around. While Young Adult literature focuses on characters in their early to late teens, NA tells stories about characters in their early adult years: typically ages 18-30.
Books about characters in their 20s are nothing new. In the ‘90s, Chick Lit emerged as the genre that bridged the gap between YA and romance novels, often focusing on characters in their mid-to late 20s. But while Chick Lit deals with some of the same issues as NA—finding love, succeeding in the workplace—it has a decidedly different tone. Chick Lit novels tend to be fluffier romances, humor-based, and feature adult women dealing with how to be adults (think: Bridget Jones’ Diary). NA focuses on that tumultuous time when you’re not quite a grown up, but also not a kid anymore. The characters are still in the process of finding themselves and with that can come some darker themes. Drug use, sexual abuse, cheating, broken families, break ups and new loves—NA deals with all of those issues that can plague us when we’re just starting to learn our place in the world.
Saint Martin’s Press officially coined the term “New Adult” in 2009, but the actual origin of the genre is a little harder to pinpoint. You could say that books about college-aged characters have been around forever—especially in genres like Horror, where authors love to send groups of college kids to a cabin in the woods (we all know what happens next). But the reality is that for years, publishers have been reluctant to publish books centered on college-aged kids. The reasoning was purely marketable: out of all the age groups, college students were considered the lightest readers. They’re too busy reading for school was the justification behind it, and it was pretty difficult to find stories—especially romances—for and about college kids.
But with the rise of self-publishing, authors and readers have more control over what’s available for reader consumption. So while Amazon digital publishing rose in popularity, so did NA novels. Readers started clamoring for darker romances that weren’t as formulaic as typical romance novels or as chaste as YA. Books like 50 Shades of Grey by EL James and Slammed by Colleen Hoover became Amazon best sellers, and were quickly picked up and republished by big, mainstream publishers. NA was no longer seen as an unmarketable age-group and publishers began seeking out NA authors and stories.
When NA first started, it was mostly associated with realistic romances between college-aged or college-based couples. Easy, by Tammara Webber, and Beautiful Disaster, by Jamie McGuire, are two of the earliest examples of NA novels—and both are set on college campuses. But now that the genre has started to grow, we’re seeing more speculative NA with elements of fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction. With those new elements, certain NA novels are also moving away from the dark romance category we so often associate it with. So while it may have started as purely college-aged romance, NA (like YA before it) is now branching out and consistently shifting. Since the genre is so new—and expanding daily—we can only guess where it will go from here.
Beautiful Sacrifice by Jamie McGuire (Create Space; May 2015)
McGuire rose to New Adult fame with Beautiful Disaster, which told the story of bad boy Travis Maddox and the girl he falls hard for, Abby Abernathy. The extremely popular self-published novel was eventually picked up and republished by Simon and Schuster —and spawned a spinoff series surrounding the Maddox brothers and the women they love. Beautiful Sacrifice came out in May of 2015; it focuses on Falyn Fairchild and the super hot, firefighting Maddox brother, Taylor. In typical Maguire fashion, this couple is devoted yet flawed and on a pretty rocky road to finding love. But those Maddox brothers are nothing if not hopeless romantics and any New Adult fan will be sucked in by this turbulent love story.
Hollywood Dirt by Alessandra Torre (EverAfter Romance; September 2015)
This was my first Torre novel (she has two popular NA series already published) and oh, man, am I hooked. Hollywood Dirt is one of those great famous-actor-falls-for-small-town-girl romances that I just can’t get enough of. Torre’s writing style is lovely as she bounces between the dual perspectives of Cole Masten, the arrogant actor who just wants to be truly loved, and Summer Jenkins, the down-on-her-luck small-town girl who’s basically the town pariah. Summer is scrappy, smart and not always likeable in a refreshing sort of way. Cole is hot, fresh off a break-up, and his arrogance starts to soften as he falls hard for Summer. There are all kinds of high-jinks (especially when Summer gets cast in the movie Cole is shooting) and plenty of Southern charm in this perfect NA novel.