fiction theory

The artist is not afraid


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"New" Adult. What happened to the old ones? Oh wait...
default3, writing!wench
fiction_theory
jmeadows talks and shares some links about the idea of a "new adult" category for fiction which is intended for readers 20-26.

I'm 25 years old and the entire idea makes me queasy as both a writer and a reader. Actually, I take that back. As a reader? I want to hit the idea of a "new adult" category with a hammer and then make it die in a giant fire. I am not a new adult. I am a REGULAR adult.

I'm married, with bills and adulthood and my cat and my crazy family and goddamn it, I do not need a modifier in front of my status as a grownup. Especially when it comes to my reading habits.

This quote from S. Jae-Jones explaining "postadolescent" literature in particular makes me want to stay miles away from anything with the label NA on it:

We, the “new adults”, have some perspective on our lives, but scope? We’re not old enough, we’re not experienced enough, we’re simply not grown-up enough. Our lives have immediacy, just as a teenager’s does, but we also possess the wisdom to understand that this immediacy cannot last for long.


Speak for yourself, lady.

Let's get this straight. I love YA dearly as a genre and a cultural idea. Because I think the idea of treating younger reader's experiences, wants, fantasies, realities, and developing selves as material for serious, sensitive exploration in any genre is a damn good thing. I think that looking at how we grow up and the stories we tell when we're in transit to our adult selves is a beautiful thing. I think a lot of our best literature is YA. It's a cultural treasure, really. You're a human being when you're under 18, and thus you deserve that kind of respect and compassion from writers.

There are a lot of reasons ranging from cultural to developmental to HAVE that distinction for the under-18's as well. There are different pressures, different realities you face when you're a kid and you don't have the same legal, cultural, or even biological status as an adult. There is a legitimate reason to have that distinction, literarily and marketing-wise.

But the idea of "new adult" is pure ageism. It smacks of the idea that my "generation"* is so perpetually childish that we can't handle "regular adult" books until we're nearly in our thirties. It also implies that stories about older protagonists are somehow so repulsive to anyone who's younger than 30 that they won't get read. I think it's feeding into our youth obsession as a culture here in the United States to do something like that.

Like other folks, I see the potential to pigeonhole authors into making protagonists younger and younger to suit marketability rather than the story. I also see pressures on authors to maybe stop telling stories that can't be made to fit the glamorous mold of youth. I can just see it now, "Yeah, the story's great, but could you change your 40-something mother of two to be a single 20-something trying to find themselves in the world while looking for love?"

I also see the potential for YA authors to feel adverse pressure to fit certain molds. I see potential for protagonists to be aged up a few years so that more sexiness can be added in. I see the potential for controversial subject matter that belongs in the hands of actual teenagers who need it to be discussed on their terms to be aged up so that a publisher can foist it off on 20-somethings without worrying about repercussions from parents or watch dog groups.

Not to mention that I'm a little wary that this new category seems to be stemming out of the success of books that were mostly marketed to a more affluent, white, middle-class, straight, liberal sensibility, books like Twilight - which had a lot of issues race, gender, and sexuality-wise. I'm afraid that an unexamined expansion into this territory simply for marketing gains.

Because those books that were linked on S. Jae-Jones's blog as great examples of NA literature were also books about white, straight (ostensibly), cisgendered, able bodied, pretty (or reasonably attractive/thin) girls. Thanks, but there are plenty of books about such characters having magical adventures at the expense of PoC, LGBT's, disabled folks, and us fatties. It's called Urban Fantasy, and the protagonists in that subgenre are usually mid-twenties anyway.

I really don't need another genre telling me that only certain people deserve to be the hero/ines of the story. Got that message already, so you don't need to send the memo around again. You certainly don't need to make a whole other GENRE of it.

Most of the books I've really enjoyed from this year's batch have not been specifically targeted to me age wise, and I haven't had a problem with that. I haven't EVER had a problem navigating or finding books I liked on the adult bookshelves. Even when I've started eliminating books by authors who are fuckmuppets in public and starting expanding to reading to include works by and about PoC, LGBT's, and others such as that, it hasn't been a problem.

So I ask - do we really need this genre? Are there that many of the 20-26 set who are just having such a problem finding books that they need this new category?

I certainly don't need it and don't want it. If there ever is a "new adult" section of the bookstore, let me know so I can turn the other way. Hopefully, though, I'll get to be considered a regular adult by then.



*When I hear people talking about generations in the United States, they're almost always referring to broad generalizations about what WHITE people were doing at a given time. Thus, I hate the entire idea. When I hear people talk about the 60's and all the "social upheaval" while showing lots of stock footage of white folks on LSD and at Woodstock and then maybe that one clip of Martin Luther King, I want to scream. Because even then, that footage of MLK is there to show how reality was changing for WHITE people in relation to what people of color were doing at the time.

I happen to think making any classifications based on "generation" is absurd, and furthermore, useless. More often than not, it's either a marketing ploy or very, very bad ageism.

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I've been thinking that something like this would happen, given the popularity of YA among adult readers.

It seems like, whenever there's a conversation about genre and "literary" fiction, somebody starts yelling about how literary fiction is all bleak and dour, and it's all about middle-aged novelists and university professors having affairs, and -- truthfully, I think that's not just a genre thing; I think that generation might be a component to that as well. I would never have discovered a fantastic book like "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" if it hadn't been in the YA section -- it's not really surprising that publishers would want to highlight similar books that are a few years too old for YA, but does it really need a separate genre category? It seems like Hip Young Literary-Lite Fiction gets enough attention as it is...

Good point on how it often seems to be focused on a specifically white, able-bodied, middle-to-upper-class experience. ("Someday This Pain" too, about a rich boy in New York, though he is gay...)

You know, I guess that makes me an "old adult." Or a "real adult." Or something. Yeah, my life lacks immediacy. Whatever that is.

In any case, I'm clearly someone who should not be reading YA ... I guess I should be reading Serious Lit'rature, trashy romances, or ladylike mysteries instead. And let's not forget traumatic memoirs by other Real Adults.

This attempt at categorizing is not good for 51-yr-olds like me, either. I don't need any more side-eye from people who see me reading Garth Nix or C.J. Cherryh or manga on the Metro.

You have to pay taxes, I have to pay taxes. If we lived in the same town, we'd likely be in line at the polls together. We would both worry about the kids who skateboard in the street in front of the houses, because we're adults and we have responsibilities. We're both grown up enough to do what we want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else and we can afford it.

Why act like we won't read the same kinds of things?

This is one of the silliest things I've heard recently.


Adult Novels Suck

(Anonymous)
Well, not all of them. I like Michael Connelly and Stephen Cannell, and some old-school sci-fi. But aside from that I find YA much more fun.

I am 63.

-Steve

Umm...yay for you.

This whole "new" adult thing pigeonholes you as much as it does anyone else. Because it presumes that because you're 63 that you're going to be a curmudgeon-y old guy who like to read books about war by Tom Clancy. And obviously, you're NOT.

And as for adult books, I would disagree heartily with your statement.


I share a lot of your concerns about this New Adult business. I don't believe there is a marketing gap at all. I do not believe that readers are falling through the cracks. Young adults read up and adults read down (where "up" and "down" are in no way indicative of quality so much as age, of course.) I entered the New Adult contest though (and won, weirdly), because I wrote a book with a protag right in this range. I'm worried that it's a marketing black hole--that if my book is published in this "genre," it will die a long, slow, unnoticeable death for indiscriminately appealing to no one.

But I also know that my book was reeeeally tough to market when it was on submission to editors the first time around for exactly this reason. Folks didn't know exactly what to do with it. Some editors wanted to buy it but couldn't, because they couldn't go to a marketing meeting and say "This book fits perfectly RIGHT HERE."

So, I see New Adult as something that might be empowering to editors--a way for them to acquire stuff they love, even if, for instance, a book has some coming of age themes along with an adult voice. The pub business is so tenuous and strange right now, and there's a lot of abracadabra involved in the decision-making process about what gets bought and what doesn't. So maybe anything that gives editors a way to push a book they love is a good thing?


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