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“New Adult” Books: Haters Gonna Hate

January 1, 2013 by Kiersi

Some actual New Adult books. Notice the absence of Harry Potter, Twilight or Fifty Shades.

The Emerging New Adult Genre and Why CNN Hates It

I’m not going to write an article about “New Adult” books, or what the “New Adult” genre includes, or even the debate over whether this term should actually exist. That’s a pretty boring discussion that I’ll let people like Liz Burns over at Tea Cozy bludgeon to death with a wall of text.

What I do want to write about is the way the media has received the emergence of New Adult as a genre–and what has become an unwarranted, vitriolic attack on what real readers are reading.

Jezebel is the worst offender. The first article published by Jezebel on New Adult came last month, titled “‘New Adult’ Is Now an Official Literary Genre Because Marketers Want Us To Buy Things.”

It’s not that I don’t think marketing happens. Pixar’s Cars has action figures; Jelly Belly makes Harry Potter-themed jelly beans. But to claim an entire genre was “invented” by a skilled marketing department just to snare a narrow group of readers–I’m sorry, ma’am, but your logic is flawed.

Jezebel continued down the rabbit hole last week with an article by Doug Barry called “‘New Adult’ Fiction Has Tons of Sexy Sex For the Millennial Reader Trapped In Adolescence.” Beyond the condescending headline, Barry digs himself a six-foot-deep pit of unfounded accusations towards young 20-somethings and the writers who write for them.

He claims that those 19-to-25-year-olds reading these types of books (he doesn’t actually cite any actual New Adult books in his article, but does mention Fifty Shades of Grey and Harry Potter a couple times each) are all living at home with their parents and shirking their responsibilities. That they (we? I’m 24, I think I still count in this group) can’t handle growing up and becoming adults and so we bury ourselves in clones of Harry Potter that have been sexed-up and drugged-up enough to keep our fleeting interest.

This is a man who seems so jaded and bitter towards my generation that he is about to foam at the mouth. And I can’t help but wonder: why? What could possibly be wrong with the thing he’s describing if it’s actually as he describes (“Harry Potter with an explicit content sticker on the front”)?

I just don’t get it. What’s wrong with people reading the fictional novels they want to read? Everyone enjoys different things. It’s like saying someone refuses to grow up because they prefer watching football on television instead of historical documentaries.

And it isn’t just Jezebel. On Sunday, CNN pronounced that “The Novel America Needs in 2013” is not a New Adult book, and that our youngsters need to stop “clinging to young adult fantasies” and just grow the hell up. Oh, sure. Because what we need is twenty-somethings with no ambitions, no dreams, and no escapism. It reminds me of an old guy shaking his stick at some kids and shouting, “Go get a job!”

Yes. Let’s stop adolescence from creeping into adulthood, because it’s not like more people going to college before entering the workforce is a good thing. The problem is obviously fun romance books written for early- to mid-twenties audiences, as if the fact they might enjoy reading it is a sign of their laziness. Don’t let them have fun! Don’t let them dream of stormy love triangles or fantasy worlds that “real” adults are allowed to live in! (Tolkien? Patrick Rothfuss? I’m confused.) I don’t see Mark Bauerline ripping contemporary romance fiction a new one, or tearing down grown men who like science fiction. So what’s the freaking problem?

I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think the writers for CNN or Jezebel know, either. I think they want to tear down New Adult because it’s new; because it’s something they don’t understand; because there is a generation of people who graduated into the Great Recession and books were the solace they found in it.

Look: if it gets people reading, what’s the need for all the derision and hate? Let people enjoy books. It can’t be anything but a good thing.

Grow up.


17 Comments »

  1. Fascinating post, and discussion. And I think you’ve hit something with the statement that a generation graduated into the great recession and are seeking escapism.

    • Kiersi says:

      I guess that was my personal experience slipping in there. I graduated right after the crash in 2008 and that’s actually how I started writing YA books professionally. Thanks for stopping by, Cindy!

  2. unsquare says:

    Bauerline wants a new version of Portnoy’s Complaint or A Confederacy of Dunces, but I think he’d write it off if it came out because it’d be marketed as a genre he doesn’t think can be valid. Never mind the fact that he just wants books to be like they were decades ago because that’s what speaks to him. Also, deriding genre as escapism is such a creaky argument that any critic who trots it out loses me pretty quickly. Genre lines are more blurred now than ever.

    • Kiersi says:

      That last one is a really good point. He wants “high literature” (whatever that means). I agree with you completely about escapism. Not that escapism is a bad thing!

      • unsquare says:

        Yeah, I feel like all good stories involve some kind of escape, and that doesn’t necessarily have to involve a pleasant fantasy world. I’d also argue that the main reason I was willing to pick up classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and Middlemarch is because I got back in the habit of reading thanks to a whole lot of YA fiction.

        When reading is fun, you grow to love reading, and you are far more willing to take risks and challenge yourself. When reading is serious work, you beat yourself up for not getting it done and associate it with feeling guilty because you watched TV instead of finishing War and Peace.

  3. kellyhashway says:

    I’m with you, Kiersi. If it gets people reading, then I’m all for it.

    • Kiersi says:

      Absolutely, Kelly. I know so many people my age that don’t read, but might if there were more books in their realm of interest.

  4. angel011 says:

    This reminds me of all the screaming when the Harry Potter books first came out, even though those books made kids reading — and the same folks were screaming that kids these days just don’t read.
    They probably just don’t get those “New Adults” books because they don’t speak to them and to their generation.

    • Kiersi says:

      That gives me hope, actually. Harry Potter is so widely accepted now–I’m sure New Adult will be someday, too. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. M. Ziegler says:

    Great perspective. Perhaps if any of these people out there who hate “new adult” allowed some kind of adolescent fun into their world they might not take life so seriously. People will read what they want no matter what you call it. What is so wrong with giving books a place in the world that have been crossing lines for years?
    This is the problem with today’s world – so few people are open to change and growth. Even when it comes to something as simple as genre’s and books.

    • Kiersi says:

      You’re so right, Michelle. I think some of these journalists don’t remember what it was like to be a young person. “New Adult” books HAVE been around for a long time and are just simply getting a name.

  6. I agree completely the current reaction is completely unwarranted. In my opinion, “New Adult” is an overdue categorization. For a while now in critic groups I’ve noticed novels that were a bit too mature for YA or had protagonists that were aged 18-25 struggling with college, or fantasy novels about people who were attending college. They were a pleasure to read, but the authors struggled to find anyone willing to publish them, often shelving quality work to “age down” their MCs and try for the YA market. It’s high time people who enjoy this literature have a genre of their own and some notice in the marketplace. The critics may be complaining, but so long as their are readers, publishers will keep wanting more NA books to sell, and that can only be a good thing.

    • Kiersi says:

      THIS. So, so true Ardyth–I’ve CPed with other authors who had the same problem: a story that really was intended for the 19-25 range but had to get “dumbed down” (or aged down) to fit the YA bubble market. I, personally, am excited about NA because it’s an age group for which I want to write–and an age group to which I belong.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. Brenda says:

    I don’t get it. I’m a mom of two. My daughter took to reading easily, my son, didn’t get it. I couldn’t force him, but I had to get him interested, so I introduced him to Marvel comics. He ate them up. He was reading and I was happy. Now when I say I am going to the bookstore he asks to come along and picks out his own books. Anything that gets people reading isn’t a bad thing. I don’t have time for book snobs. Some want to read about vampires, or dense literary prose, or maybe romance, whatever it is, some author labored over the story and is making a living doing something they love writing those stories.

    • Kiersi says:

      And by the same token, those readers are spending money, and that speaks to publishers! Great to hear about your son coming to love books. I like to think of a lot of these genres aimed at younger audiences–middle-grade, YA and NA–are almost like “gateway drugs” to create adults who like reading 🙂

  8. […] sections, it’s also propagated by professional critics, as my friend Kiersi noted in her recent discussion of criticism directed at the “new adult” genre. This particular criticism seems to rely largely on the assumption that young adult writers […]

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