Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My thoughts on New Adult books

I've been sitting on my thoughts about the New Adult genre for awhile.  It's something I felt a bit uneasy about since it became a 'thing' but I thought to myself that I should really try out some of these books and authors before I judge the label/genre too harshly.  It didn't start out well.  The first several NA books I read were really, really not my thing at all and I was confused (and more than slightly bewildered!) as to why these same titles were getting such support and enthusiasm from other readers.  I still am, to be honest.

And that feeling of 'wow, this isn't for me' has carried on.  There are, of course, exceptions. I absolutely adore Easy by Tammara Webber. I recently read Deeper by Robin York and really loved it.  I enjoyed Denise Grover Swank's Off the Subject books. I really enjoyed Jessica Park's Flat Out Love and also some of Samantha Young's books (though they felt like adult romance as opposed to NA)

And based on the many, many New Adult books I've read over the past year or so, here are some of my thoughts.  (To give you some context of my New Adult reading experience: out of the top 200 NA books on this list, I've read 53)


I don't think it's necessary as a genre


I really can't see the point of it as another genre.  A lot of people argue about this time period of 18-23 as pivotal and that both YA and adult fiction isn't giving this age group enough exposure. Or whatever. And I don't agree at all. Which is partly why I've now seen books by authors like Katie McGarry and Gayle Forman trying to be included under a New Adult label even though (as far as I'm aware) they've only ever been marketed as young adult books.  YA has always had a wide range of books aimed at a younger teen audience and an older teen audience and they've always covered more mature topics. And while I don't know very much about adult fiction, I'd think it would be similar. There are some great adult fiction writers who are writing for the 20-something reader. Like Sarra Manning.

As I'm reading New Adult books, I've never thought to myself 'wow, yes. This IS what we've been missing, these books that discuss what it means to live independently, or go off to university and cope with different changes or what it's like to apply for that first serious job' Because so many New Adult books aren't doing this. We might get a university setting but instead of focusing on the real life issues that do come up around this time period, we're instead seeing a great deal of sex and relationships. I'd really like to see less of this.  Everyone who is a fan of New Adult fiction cries out on a regular basis that NA isn't YA + sex, but it's hard to make this argument successfully when there are so few exceptions.


I think there are far too many unhealthy relationships


There are far too many relationships in these books in which (usually) the male partner is controlling or  there is some instance of a power imbalance.  Of one person being in awe of the other person's appearance, wealth, power, charm, or whatever leaving one person in this 'relationship' with a feeling of inferiority that the other person can (and does) take advantage of. There also seems to be fairly common for the relationship to consume the main characters entirely. So while (sometimes) there is an interesting university setting or friendships that a reader might care about towards the beginning of the book once the ball gets rolling on a relationship, that seems to be the end of everything else. And it certainly isn't healthy at all for one person to become anyone's centre of the universe for which everything revolves. Let the main characters maintain their own sense of identity and independence, please.


I think there are far too many instances of gratuitous sex


I'm no prude. Sexytimes in books are welcome occasions ... up to a certain point. As long as there is something else to a story other than the sex. I don't want to read any more books in which the entire story line or set-up is in place in order to showcase the passion and heat and sex between two people. It gets nauseating.


I think many new adult novels show a skewed view of what it means to be a man or a woman


One of my biggest peeves when reading ANY sort of novel are the ideas that men have to act a certain way and women have to act another.  I see too often NA books that continue to push these stereotypes. In particular the idea that men have to be macho and 'manly' and fight for a women's honour and so on.  One popular NA book I read recently had the male main character and love interest immediately get a job as a mechanic and some 'manly' tattoos in order to balance out this hit his masculinity took after he did some modelling gigs. I nearly rolled my eyes out of my head.

There is also a great deal of slut-shaming going on and virgin-shaming by both men and women.  I don't appreciate that some authors think that this is acceptable behaviour from their characters whatever gender they identify as. So many NA books I've read find it acceptable for the female characters to call other women 'whores' and 'sluts' and be really mean about other women's sexual preferences or clothing. And in a lot of cases this is (possibly) put into the narrative in order to highlight the 'perfection' or 'goodness' of the main character. But really? Tearing other women down in order to make your main character look 'good'? I don't see it that way.


I'm seeing far too many storylines that rely on an experienced man who is in a relationship with a virgin


This is a story line that I've come across far too frequently when I'm reading New Adult books.  I'd like to ask the question, who is enjoying this story line, really? Who are the readers that are enjoying this chain of events?  The thought of it really makes me queasy. It seems to continue these outdated ideas about women and sexuality. Why shouldn't women have sexual partners? Why shouldn't they have had and enjoyed sex before now?

And really, first time sex is something I would normally expect to come across in a YA novel as opposed to something supposedly more mature. Obviously with an older character and a NA label an author could get away with making it more explicit and racier, but why? And it goes back to the idea of giving a false sense of (first) sexual experiences. Too many of these first-time experiences are amazing and multi-orgasmic, I'm assuming because of the (ick!) great experience of the male partner but that's hardly realistic, isn't it? (I think it's gross.)


Too many New Adult books make light of serious topics 


I've left this point to the last but really it is the thing I like the least about the New Adult books that I've read.  I find it really abhorrent that so many New Adult books are using serious topics (like rape, attempted rape or childhood physical or sexual abuse) and they're using these topics that should be treated with understanding and compassion and instead these are the roadblocks in a relationship, or these are things that cause tension or drama or cliffhangers.  And I hate how much detail is gone into exploring the trauma of these events on a character. Why is that even necessary? We don't need to hear every single gory detail. Rape and abuse victims should never be used for their supposed entertainment value.


What do you think of New Adult books?

12 comments:

  1. This is interesting. I have a manuscript for a book *I* have been calling YA. But it has been suggested to me that it is really NA because some of the chapters are written from adult POV. I don't have many of the problems you outline above, since the book is an alternate history fantasy. Trying to decide if it's YA, NA, or....A...is harder than jusy YA or Adult.

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    1. It is pretty difficult to nail down a good definition of YA/NA/Adult! GOod luck.

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  2. I agree with all that you have said. It's a superfluous and troubling genre.

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    1. Yes, a lot of these things are deeply concerning...

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  3. Fantastic post! I completely agree with you here, esepcially on the YA + sex and stereotypes of being a man or a woman. Those are the things that have put me off the 'genre'.

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    1. They are definitely the top things putting me off reading more. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.

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  4. Really interesting post - I haven't read much NA (Easy being one of them) but I'm not particularly attracted to the 'genre' either for many of the reasons you state.

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    1. Thanks, Jesse. It seems a popular choice - avoidance :) I wish at times I'd gone down that same route!

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  5. I think that there are some excellent NA books out there, but it does seem to be a category that books are trying to be shoe horned into just because it is so popular at the moment. I am not sure that it needs to be a separate category really either.

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    1. I had a great discussion about this on Twitter and yes, there are some great stories and authors of NA out there and we've just got to search them out :( I really don't want NA to keep going down the route it's going though...

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  6. Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I think when New Adult was first emerging I was wary but quite excited about what it could be...but all I'm seeing is an overwhelming amount of romance with macho bad boys and reluctant virgins and YAWN. We already had this! It's not new, it's just been relabelled! I ignore almost every book that's being marketed as New Adult because the stories don't interest me at all.

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    1. I think initially the label came about for the right reasons ... and then 50 Shades happened and it all got taken over by that, sadly.

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