Fiction: New Adult vs Young Adult

ReadingI had an interesting conversation at a recent book fair I attended, and it got me thinking. A young woman approached and asked if my books were “new adult”. I said no, but we struck up a conversation that had me scratching my head.

My definition of YA and NA categories is that they overlap a bit. I think of YA as high school to maybe age 18 or 19, and NA as essentially college-age.

To me, YA are stories where the characters are still dependent to some degree, while in NA, the characters are often navigating their first shot at true independence.

Imagine my surprise when she indicated that NA goes up to age 30. When I looked this up later, I found that indeed, for many, the description of “New Adult” fiction has been expanded.

I’m sorry, but what?

I get 18 to 24 or 25. You’re talking college age. You’re talking young folks who may be out on their own for the first time. People learning about financial responsibility, cooking for themselves, managing a budget, navigating roommates. Laundry.

This makes sense to me.

To include the 25 to 30 year old range seems… well… silly.

At age 30, you’ve had 12 years as a legal adult. I hardly think that qualifies as “new”. You’ve presumably been out of college for at least a couple of years (even if you took a gap year, were a five-year senior, and went to graduate school). It’s a safe bet that you’ve held down a job where you could not be replaced by a high school student looking for their first job.

How is this “new adult”?

A 28 year old does not have the same concerns in life as an 18 year old.

I understand that many college students wind up moving back home after graduation. I understand the tough job market, the heavy debt load, and the huge variety of other issues young people today are facing. I have kids who are college age. Four of them, ranging from 19 to 21.

What I don’t understand is the idea that a person is still “new” to adulthood as they approach age 30.

I would hope that by this age you understand how to balance your budget, manage to feed yourself something other than ramen, can navigate friendships and professional relationships, and have lost at least a little of the naivety of youth, without having lost all of enthusiasm of youth.

I’m not complaining about older adults reading younger fiction – hey, I still enjoy reading Harry Potter. What I’m baffled by is the idea that after over 10 years of experience at a thing you can still be “new”.

If you want to read new adult stories when you’re 30 (or 50, or 60, or 90), go for it. But please don’t redefine the genre so the characters are now reflecting your own age and status in life.

It’s called growing up. It’s what people do.

If “adult” fiction doesn’t appeal to you, fine. Read whatever fiction does appeal. But to me, expanding the “new adult” genre to include people approaching age 30 does a disservice to those truly “new” adults who are looking for characters they identify with.