It’s been almost a year since I first heard the term “New Adult,” in association with Tammara Webber’s book Easy. The genre has exploded since then, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
To be honest, my debut NA novel, Where I End and You Begin, has been sitting in my brain, percolating, since 2009. I tried several times to write it as a Young Adult novel, but the strictures of the genre kept hampering me—things like dancing around the topic of sex, or drugs, or alcohol, the problems of what to do with parental figures, and the difficulty of working around a high school setting—and I finally put it away, determined to work on it at another point in my life when I could figure out a way to shoehorn it into an existing genre. I didn’t just want to write a book; I wanted to find an audience.
Thankfully I didn’t have to do any genre hoop-jumping in order to find an audience, because there was a classification of books just waiting to be named and it turned out to be perfect for the story I wanted to tell. Obviously, that classification is New Adult. New Adult takes away the strictures of YA, but leaves the uncertainty of the characters stepping out into a new world and learning how to live within it.
To understand New Adult, you have to understand Young Adult first. One of the most popular genres of YA is paranormal and fantasy, which I think really captures the idea that the possibilities, once we move beyond the care of our parents, are limitless. If we could just get out of this high school and out from under mom’s thumb or dad’s rules, we could be anything, and fantasy and paranormal stories are a magnification of that desperate champing at the bit we all do when we want to break free.
New Adult, I’ve found, is a much wearier genre, and popular stories tend to focus very much on trauma and the angst of the past, and overcoming those things. It’s a very necessary genre, because when we leave home and step out into the world, we aren’t really adults, but the safety nets in place for children have been ripped out from under us. It’s sink or swim time, and much of NA is preoccupied with the teetering between those two states and the accompanying existential crisis that goes with it. Unmoored, we’re floating out to sea with very few bearings and only the lessons of our childhood to guide us. Sometimes, we don’t feel very confident that those lessons taught us anything useful, and all too often the lessons learned in childhood are actually actively harmful to the goal of becoming an actualized adult. NA gives us a chance to explore, in literature, the re-learning of how to be a person that so many of us must do before we can move on to become adults.
To be all academic about it, in anthropological terms NA explores the liminal state between childhood and adulthood, the rituals we go through to mark the end of one time of our lives and the beginning of another. (Liminal comes from the Latin, limen, which literally means threshold.) For most people, college or our first ‘real’ job beyond high school is the first truly liminal state we’ve experienced.
It’s a time that can be uncomfortable and frightening, all the more so because the culture in which most NA novels take place, namely North American culture, significantly lacks acknowledgement that this transitional—and ultimately uncertain—state has become a much longer and more perilous stage of life than it used to be. Thanks to changing norms and a terrible economy, young people in their 20s spend quite a lot of time in transition. Careers are started later, marriage is put off, and more and more often children don’t come into the picture until we’re within spitting distance of our thirties.
Having the chance to write about this liminal state is a great opportunity. In Where I End, my heroine, Bianca, spends quite a lot of time attempting to move past a traumatic event in her life, something many of us have had to do, and something that is the focus of quite a few NA novels. Harmful lessons learned from moments or periods of horror and misery are extremely difficult to let go, but when we step away from the place where we experienced those things, passing from childhood into adulthood, we’re given a symbolic chance to become someone new. It’s right there in the name, even. New Adult.
The biggest challenge I found writing Where I End and You Begin was the dredging up of many feelings I have since learned to deal with and manage. Now I can look back on those feelings I experienced when I was a new adult myself and say, ‘okay, that was good, that was a good lesson to learn,’ but when you’re in the moment, living them, there’s no guarantee everything will be okay, and we do it without the knowledge that whatever crisis we are going through is not the end of the world, and without the supports of childhood to catch us. Capturing the moment when the training wheels come off, so to speak, but before you’ve become confident enough to just pedal, was difficult.
In Where I End and You Begin, I attempted to deal with the question of what to do when your whole life up to the point when the training wheels come off has taught you that when those wheels come off, people crash? To me, that’s the essence of the New Adult genre: the moment when we are forced to fling ourselves into the void and try to fly, knowing very well that falling could kill us. It’s a brave genre, one that’s still in its infancy, its own liminal state, and I am privileged and grateful to be able to write in it and be a part of its evolution. I can only hope Where I End and You Begin can, in some small way, help New Adult find its own voice.
Where I End and You Begin
Where I End and You Begin is part of the Insatiable Reads Tour, happening all July! Don’t miss 25 of the hottest authors, publishing in some of the hottest genres today!
Giveaways and Prizes
Insatiable Reads will run one large giveaway during the month of July. The grand prize is a Kindle Fire. Second and third prizes consist of 40 Amazon.com gift cards for either $10 or $5. Individual authors will have copies of their books to give away and may offer additional prizes at their discretion.