Discourse: Some Books are Just Not YA

Before I get flak let me just say, I love YA.  Of course I do.  I enjoy them much more than the stories in adult literature for the most part.  I swear most of them are about mothers who’ve lost kids, or wives who’ve lost husbands in some way, or they’re psychological thrillers where the protagonist just kind of forces their way into the mystery of another character, or it’s “historical fiction” but tells the story of one character from one time period and then another from a more modern one and somehow forces a connection between the two.  I mean, how many of those have you seen floating around?  I’m sure many people enjoy them but I could honestly care less.  So I turn to YA.

Oh, but there is a whole section now called NA – New Adult – which is supposed to be perfect for my age-range (the college to post-grad/twenty-something range).  Except it’s not.  Almost all NA books I’ve seen are romance books – and not the kind that are light and fluffy, but the ones that seem to revolve around sex and “finding oneself” after college.  I’m sure there are great storylines attached to these, but when the summary is telling me mostly about the relationships and sex and stuff, you’ve lost me.  I’m not interested in that either.

Confession time: I’m a 25 year old virgin.  I’ve never been in a relationship.  I like my ships just as much as the next person, but I don’t want to read a book that revolves around the sexual aspects of it.  I don’t know if it’s just me, or maybe I only seem to read about those kind of NA books and am completely missing others that may have some sex in them but which don’t take over the story, but I haven’t seen them yet.

In fact, there is one that I did read and absolutely loved and that was Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson and seriously it is the cutest, most down-to-earth and easily relatable story ever.  It’s been two years since I read it and I still smile uncontrollably thinking about it.  And it’s NA!  Without the sexcapades!!

So, we’ve established the New Adult category, then.  The one where it seems to be all about the sex and romance.  Okay, that’s cool for some people but I like my fantasy.  I like historical fiction.  Heck, I like contemporary fiction, but there is more to life than just the partner you hook up with.  And I’ve read some books that I think should be in the “New Adult” subcategory, and yes, there is some sex in them, but not an overwhelming amount, and storylines that are bigger than all of that but which encompasses it greatly and sensibly.

I’m talking about Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, and now Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore.  Yeah, I only read the first 10 pages of that last one so far, but I had absolutely no idea that the protagonist was a college-age student.  It’s being marketed as a YA book, but as far as I know, not many teens have had to deal with living on their own for the first time ever, discovering they might not have what it takes for what they dreamed about doing, having only a part-time job to make ends meet, and still smile and pretend everything is cool when people you know ask you how everything is when they can clearly see that you are failing.  Maybe a few depending on their circumstances, but as far as I know, that is something I didn’t experience until I was 22, out of college, and discovering that, despite the A’s I always got, I still didn’t have what it took for what I thought I wanted to do in life.  I am 10 pages into a book I barely had an interest in reading (I got an ARC and decided to at least try it before passing it on to someone who wanted it more, but that might not happen now) and already I understand this main character so well it hurts.

As for the others I listed above – Uprooted is actually placed in Adult Fantasy, but the protagonist is young and it reads a little more like a YA.  Wintersong, in contrastdefinitely has an older protagonist and felt like too much for a YA.  Sarah J. Maas’s books have protagonists who are technically adults, and many sexually explicit scenes (they are also shelved in a section meant for 13-17 year-olds, and while the teens on the upper end of that spectrum might be fine with those scenes, I certainly don’t feel comfortable selling them to the 12- and 13-year-olds who are just venturing into that area for the first time and who might not be ready for such detail.).  And even Truthwitch has protagonists that are over 18 and while I would be completely fine with suggesting it to teens to read, I don’t see why it can’t also be promoted to adults as well.

What I’m trying to say is, there needs to be more in this “New Adult” category than just contemporary romance novels.  Include some of these fantasy novels.  Include college-age books like The Big F and Fangirl.  There is an entire age bracket out there who would most connect with these characters and situations, or who just want protagonists around their age who share their issues and interests, who don’t always want to read about other people having sex.

This whole thing kind of came out of nowhere to be honest.  I literally just started reading Jane, Unlimited last night and just got so angry that, yet again, here was a book with a protagonist I could relate to, who was not a teenager or a middle-age woman, and yet it is being marketed for YA.

YA is supposed to be for teens.  The protagonists should be teens.  More and more am I seeing teens feeling like they are being pushed out of their own reading category as adults start taking it over.  I am not saying that adults shouldn’t be reading YA books (I would be such a hypocrite) because they should be so that they can understand what the next generation is dealing with and such, but they also shouldn’t be becoming the targeted audience for these books either.  New Adult is supposed to exist as a nice little transition area between YA and Adult, and I just wish more books of other genres would be added to that category.  It would still be shoppable for older, mature teens, and those twenty-something and thirty-something adults (you know, the ones from that Gilmore Girls special on Netflix?) would find what they had been drawn to in the YA section, but with protagonists with whom that they can better connect.  I think it’s the storylines that intrigue them, intrigue us, but I know I don’t always want to read about people of an age-range that I have already lived through.

tl;dr Why is it that there are plenty of books in the YA and Adult Fiction sections that could be considered New Adult but aren’t?  Why are we being relegated to romance/erotic novels alone?  Romance is great for some, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little romance with a great big adventure, or a coming-of-age/discovering-oneself in your twenties story, or just a book about discovering that happiness has a different meaning for everyone?  Cait from APageWithaView put it in one of the best ways and I highly suggest you read her words.  They’re probably better than the jibber-jabber I spilled on the page above.


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