Trendspotting: New Adult

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Image courtesy of Flickr user drinksmachine

Let’s face it, teens today can’t see their futures as easy. On top of their everyday pressures — struggling with new feelings for some peers, maintaining grades, exploring their own interests and increasing individuality — they also have to worry about the economy in ways teens just ten years ago didn’t have to. Back then, summer jobs were available, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles had more established jobs and secure futures. The economy changed all of that in a blink of an eye, and who can say if that level of prosperity will ever come back? Teens are growing up with more uncertainty than ever before.

That uncertainty is playing out through pop culture in many different ways. In the area of books, you might have heard the term “New Adult”. Liz Burns of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has a long list of definitions and links to other posts that can give you a rundown of this increasingly popular publishing trend. To quote Liz:

“So, it seems to me that “New Adult” has characters from 18 to 29. It’s people in a time period that is after the perceived safety and narrowness and’  intimacy of high school — and by intimacy I mean, having a physical place where everyone goes and shares lunch times and has common experiences of classrooms and lunch times. I say perceived, because that’s not always true.”

Liz has an entire series of posts dedicated to New Adult if you are interested in pursuing this topic in more depth. But many books branded as New Adult portray young adults — I would hesitate to classify the characters as teens, even if some of them are eighteen or nineteen years old — and their struggles, but, based solely on the few NA titles I have read, they are’ most typically located in a college setting. Where are the reflections of experiences of those young adults who do not have the luxury or option of heading to college right after graduation? Or those who might not want to go to college? Where are the characters that haven’t grown up in some kind of middle class background? People of color are also being left out of the New Adult category.

This problem plays out in another pop culture arena, television. In the popular HBO show, Girls, college graduate Hannah Hovarth is finally facing adulthood after her parents stop paying for her rent and other needs. But what kind of adulthood can she have with few job prospects in a tight job market? There is no doubt that this show examines a type of young adulthood specific to a privileged background.

New Girl, Two Broke Girls, Girls, and Comedy Central’s Workaholics all showcase the sometimes aimless and protracted transition into adulthood that is being tackled by young people today. ‘ Again, there are definite holes in whose stories are being told and explored. As much as I love pop culture, it is so easy to forget that what has become popular is often overshadowing the experiences of most people. Such is life viewed through media.

So how does this all relate back to teens? In many ways, these are the types of experiences teens may be facing soon. Having to live with parents for a lot longer, putting off that move to total independence in adulthood, struggling finding a job. These images on the screen and in the books that make their way into libraries share only a small and particular portion of the trials today’s teens are facing. But there’s no doubt that young adulthood is quite different in 2013 than it was in 2003 or 1993.

We’re only seeing the beginning of this emerging trend. The success of Girls is spawning new shows and yes, probably more books in the same vein. But they need to move beyond, much as I hate to say it, the middle class, white, early-twenty-something experience. Where can we find resources for’ authentic range of new young adult experiences? How can librarians better showcase those to the teens they are serving?

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4 Comments

  1. First things first –thank you so much for linking to my series of posts about New Adult.

    Second, there is a fascinating look at GIRLS versus Showtimes’ SHAMELESS at The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/172272/what-girls-and-shameless-teach-us-about-being-broke-and-being-poor# in terms of the socioeconomic status of Hannah versus Fiona, and I wonder, would Fiona’s narrative, in print, qualify for “New Adult” ? Why or why not?

    Next, I’m really curious as to the actual readership of the books falling under New Adult (whether or not the pub/author calls it that). Basically, is this really “teen readers” or is it post-teen readers? Is this something to be working on with adult ref staff because the readers are, say, 21? Is it readers who love all the best about YA but are not themselves teens?

    My bottom line: I don’t think NA is a good name; I don’t think it should be its own genre/bookshelf; but I do think it’s telling us what certain readers want in books, and for that reason, it’s good to pay attention.

  2. Thanks for the link Liz! I remember seeing that link floating around back in January so I’m glad you’ve brought it to my (and hopefully others!) attention too. It’s definitely something to think about.

    As you said, obviously SOMEONE wants these stories, someone is reading them but they perhaps aren’t being classified very well right now or even put into the right hands. I admit, I’m not sure where to shelve something like Tammara Webber’s Easy in my library. It eventually landed in adult but I can see older teens hanging on every word.

  3. Sarah, my dream library (in terms of funding, staff, room, materials) would have items shelved in multiple places — I think that, if ebooks are catalogued/labelled ideally, this is one benefit of not having to “shelve” them, it can be both YA and adult (or for some books, YA and J).

  4. Well I definately think it deserves its own category because I work in an academic library and the librarians are hestitant to order YA materials for fear that they are too young for the older teens and early twenty crowds that hang out on campus. However, those students do want fiction to read and the normally adult fiction is often about older adults and completely unrelatable to those in the transitioning position to early adulthood.
    What are some alternative names to New Adult anyway? What else could we call it?

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