Posted September 9, 2013 by in What's New in YA?

What is New Adult Literature?

New adult literature. The term is so new that many people may not have even heard it yet. What is it? Why is it controversial? And where can I get my hands on some of these books?! This week we’re going to dive into the new interest level and see what it’s all about.

what is new adult

Reading Interest Levels: A Brief History

Let me start with a story. A history, if you will. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a “teenager.” There were children and there were adults. Period. And there were three types of books: picture books, children’s books and adult books. The 1950′s saw the rise of the teenager as rock-and-roll hit the scene and the baby-boomers grew up. Not surprisingly, the 1960s saw the rise in novels written for this age group with the popularity of such books as SE Hinston’s The Outsiders and Paul Zindel’s The Pigman. 

Fast-forward to the 1990′s, when America makes the shift from the junior high model to the middle school model. Educators and researchers began realizing that this 10-14 year-old age group was distinct. Puberty and awkwardness, with a residual dash of innocence, mark these years. Again, literature wasn’t far behind when publishers began marketing for a new interest level: the middle grades novel.

As society continues to recognize the unique stages and interests of growing up, the writing and publishing of books has followed suit in marketing books to these specific age levels. So where does new adult come in? Well, those baby boomers all had children: The Millennial Generation. With the poor economy and rise in students attending college or university, adulthood no longer begins at 18 for the Millennials. Sure, 18-year-olds are technically adults under the law, but most are still growing up. They are financially dependent on their parents for longer, shifting careers more than any other generation, and waiting longer to get married. It is no surprise that a growing body of literature has been marketed toward this age group as they navigate a unique stage in life. This stage is more mature than YA (though it sometimes looks like YA!) but focuses on the big questions of “becoming” an independent adult.

Characteristics of New Adult (NA)

Let me break it down for you a little more: new adult is like YA with entry level jobs, no parents, and sexual relationships. Protagonists are generally 18-25 years old. New adult is an interest level, not a genre, so books in this category cover all types of genres: fantasy, romance, sci-fi, historical, etc. It’s a relatively new category of books, aimed at a somewhat shaky demographic (college students and young professional may not have the time/money to read novels for fun), but it is worth noting that the category doesn’t seem to going away any time soon.

New adult novels and general fiction (“adult” novels) do have some overlap. None of the interest levels are solid, and it’s all about marketing the story to the audience who might want to read the story. New adult is distinct from general fiction in the treatment of identity and navigation of the novel situations found in the adult world. Common themes include becoming independent, race, religion, sexuality, dating, fear of failure, not living up to expectations, changing views, and substance abuse.

Think shows like HBO’s Girls and CBS’s New Girl. 

Give It A Try: Noteworthy New Adult Novels

New Adult Books


If YA feels a little too “after school special” and general fiction feels too stuffy, New Adult may be a category worth checking out. Here are four books to get you started (links to to Goodreads):

  1. Losing It by Cara Carmack - Twenty-two year-old Bliss decides to lose her virginity with a one night stand, but backs out at the last minute. Much to her horror, her gorgeous mistake turns out to be her theater professor (how very Grey’s Anatomy, huh?).
  2. Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot — Mystery novels featuring Heather Wells, an ex-teen pop star and current assistant director of a college dorm.
  3. Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty — The first two novels in the Jessica Darling quintet are set in high school, and decidedly YA. However, the third, fourth, and fifth books are set in Jessica’s college and early adult years as Jessica finds a career and spends a lot of time thinking about that crazy Marcus Flutie.
  4. Easy by Tammara Webber — A YA novel about a girl’s romance with her Econ tutor classmate, while she also tries to recover from a sexual assult that turned her life upside down.

Read More

What do you think of New Adult? Read any great titles you’d like to share? Think it’s all just a marketing scheme? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Former middle school teacher and school librarian, current doctoral student in education. Reader of all things young adult. I'm particularly fond of dystopian societies, sassy female protagonists, and clever dialogue. I can often be found asleep with a book on my face. Check out all my articles.