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New Adult Fiction: When You Want Adult Characters, But Not Too Adult

Katherine Marciniak

Staff Writer

Katherine is an over-caffeinated avid reader, writer and college student. She was featured in the anthology Once Upon an Apocalypse, and loves to beta read and edit when she has the opportunity. She’ll do more impressive things after she’s finished her tea…and this next chapter.

I overheard someone once saying, “I’m kind of done with the young adult section in the bookstore and the library. I don’t know how to go beyond that, though. Everything is all lumped together and it’s kind of scary.”

It’s so true. From the time we’re small, books are broken down by very specific age brackets. But what happens after Young Adult? That’s where the scary world of Adult fiction begins.

When I started to outgrow some of the themes in Young Adult fiction, I found that exploring further was a daunting task, as well. I didn’t immediately find books about young people my age, venturing off and going to college. I found books about once-divorced mothers looking to rekindle love in their lives and overcoming the loss in their past. Sometimes I found books about grandfathers, or sharpshooters, or forty-somethings having mid-life crises. They all seemed to have dead or estranged children, and either took place somewhere in uptight suburbia or out in the middle of the woods with no cellphone reception. The other option seemed to be books about World War II. (There’s apparently a lot of those).

So I retreated to old classics. After all, if I couldn’t relate to characters, the least I could do was seem educated for the trouble.

Other people, apparently, have realized that this is an issue for readers my age, and thus the market classification “New Adult” appeared.

It’s great. First of all, to anyone out there reading this who’s looking to write about young people who have actual autonomy, check out the college scene. It’s everything YA wants. It gets the parents out of the picture without killing anyone off. Your heroes and heroines can drive and probably have access to money, but are young enough to have real adventures.

But the New Adult classification isn’t really that great.

First of all, not a lot of people know about it. There aren’t a lot of books with this classification, to start with.

Second of all, it’s a little difficult for bookstores and libraries to implement it. After all, they kind of already have sections called “New Adult” – and it’s for new releases in adult fiction. It would get a little crazy to further break that down.

I recently walked around my local Barnes and Noble (no fun niche small bookstores near me, I’m afraid), and I was finally able to spend a lot of time looking at each book. It’s more time consuming to find books in my age range with experiences like mine, but they are out there.

To all of you looking for books with protagonists who are somewhere between 17 and 35; they’re out there! Yes, the adult fiction world is scary and a little lumped together, but things exist! You can do it! You can find protagonists closer in age to you!