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Two Takes on 'New Adult'

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The relatively new publishing category "New Adult," or NA, is the topic of reflection in recent issues of Booklist and The Horn Book. What is New Adult, librarians ask, and what distinguishes it from Young Adult and Adult fiction?

In a December Booklist column, Michael Cart identifies crossover titles and series — Harry Potter, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, among others that appeal to both young and adult readers — as the possible origin of this blended category. The crossover appeal of Young Adult titles continues today — the Hunger Games trilogy is another prominent example — and has helped introduce more mature themes to the YA genre.

Cart does not believe that NA is simply YA with more sex and violence. He suggests instead that New Adult books are more character-driven than the traditional YA novel, which tends to be more plot-driven. If NA merits its own category, he says, it is because certain books challenge and develop readers in new ways.

Still, Cart thinks it unlikely that NA will fully emerge as a separate genre anytime soon and believes that its blurriness contributes to media misrepresentation. "Leave it to the media to sensationalize an issue that requires more serious attention and analysis," he writes. In other words, Cart explains, New Adult is more than a short list of authors who "have recently made a splash with their steamy, self-published fiction."

Writing in the January/February 2014 issue of The Horn Book, librarians Sophie Brookover, Elizabeth Burns, and Kelly Jensen identify thematic differences as "what's new about New Adult." For one, New Adult is an extension of the coming-of-age stories previously considered the domain of YA books. Grumpy old codgers may claim that kids grow up sooner these days but these librarians suggest that the process of growing up now lasts through the teen years and into the twenties. New Adult may be the literature of and for such changing conditions.

Brookover and her co-authors admit that "there aren't definitive answers to be had as New Adult continues the process of becoming whatever it's going to be." New Adult has raised its profile through media buzz and popularity with readers but also through new self-publishing business models and "the willingness publishers have shown to edit and format material differently to capture different audiences," they explain. So, as these librarians write, there's always the chance New Adult is a tempest in a teapot, a "brouhaha in publishing and librarianship" with little interest or import for readers.

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