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Saturday, February 9, 2013

editorial: bringing down the new adults

             The latest emergence in the graticule of the literary world is upon us, and it comes in an attempt of marketers to introduce a new genre to publishing: new adult. Over the past few months in the media, sparks have flown ever so freely on the topic, and for good reason. The very motive to create the genre, according to those who have mercilessly weighed in on the topic, is irrational and insulting to readers in the target audience. We will return to their arguments later; first, let’s take a look at the support for this movement.
             Proponents of this controversial genre define new adult as a category aiming to sell to and depict 18-25 year-old protagonists heroically taking on the world alone for the first time. These characters deal with issues of identity, sexuality, substance abuse, and more. They usually prove victorious in the end, having been hired for their first job or moved away from their childhood home into a college dorm at the beginning of the story. Oh, and we must not forget the defining attribute of adult fiction (which sets it apart from the likes of YA): the sex! Oh, the sex…
             The strongest advocates of the genre are novice novelists who write about characters in their college years. Seeing a readership gap in this lifetime transition period, these (mostly female) writers claim that publishers won’t risk publishing the too-old-for-YA-and-too-young-for-adult stories for lack of demand. But these writers continue to fight for the genre. Apparently, fish have to swim, writers have to write sell their work.
This being written, I tend to agree with the opposition: while the adoption of a contemporary YA voice by an older protagonist seems all well and good, new adult is not needed. Why?
First, I start with the thing that sets the genre apart from the likes of YA: sex. Sex does sell, doesn't it? Enter 50 Shades ofGrey. What a masterpiece… of crap. Goodness, I’m sad to say I deigned low enough even to consider reading it; one of my friends who did read it stopped halfway through the series, saying that although she has always finished her book series, continuing on through this one was pointless. It is not pointless, however, to say she’s in the new adult demographic, and was not too impressed by the the gasping-and-grabbing sexual themes (full exhalations included) that contribute to the book. Another of my friends (also in new adult’s target audience, and a reader and writer of YA) said she finished the first book and said it was essentially a rip off of Twilight, only with oodles of sex thrown into the plot. She did not even bother with the second. And this is not to say that sex is an unimportant plot device that holds no value in storytelling. Sexual encounters can define lives, and that should reflect in literature. But to think that the revealing of “the mystery” defines a genre and that genre is considered a stepping stone in the categorical and often diagrammatic world of aging readers, that’s pathetic. Besides, what about those readers that are early bloomers? They moved on from Percy Jackson early and are moving on from Sarah Dessen at 15. What is there to do when you are not able to purchase the shrink-wrapped, locked down copy of the next age-defining genre marked “EXPLICIT” on your lonesome? I suppose you should stop reading?
(For reference, YA has dealt with sex in the past. If you want to see how to deal with sex in a tasteful way with a contemporary YA voice (which is what new adult adopts, essentially), read Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. It may have been banned from a few libraries, but she knows how to craft a novel and deal with those sensitive topics, let me tell you.)
Second, maybe the reason why the writers of this genre are not being published is because their writing is not worthy to face the world just yet. Seriously, writing fiction is hard. It’s the most challenging thing I have personally ever done, and while I would love more than anything to be a published author one day, I realize that writing does not only take a set of balls (much less a steel set), but also the right training and a natural knack for language and storytelling. To blame not being published because of your incomplete metamorphosis as a writer on the age of your character is wrong. Young people are incredibly capable of doing wonderful things in the world, of having adventure, of experiencing something unique and intriguing. It shows in books that have been published in the past, and they were published with smashing success because the authors wrote stories that were well thought out and researched. Examples of these novels (with the character name and age) include Water for Elephants (Jacob Jankowsky, 23), The Help (Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, 23), The Devil Wears Prada (Andrea Sachs, recent graduate), This Side of Paradise (Armory Blaine, early 20s), and many others. Think about it. In many books, age is not mentioned or maybe forgotten because circumstance and the undying human spirit is more important to the journey and, more importantly, the journey of the reader. This raises the question: does age really matter? Are authors condemning themselves because they stereotype characters even in their own minds by their characters’ ages? It is a question to ponder. The lesson we learn? Writers, do NOT blame your characters for what you made them do, or rather what you did not make them do.
Third, books not only have the ability to record the world, but to influence it; if we settle for and support a genre that celebrates prolonged adolescence and unnecessary records of sex, we should not only worry about what future generations will think about us, but we should be worried that tomorrow will not be changed for the better because of us being here. Although sex impacts our lives immensely,the need to procreate is a common trait among species much, much lower than human beings. If what makes us human is the ability to create and connect on an emotional level, not just a physical level, shouldn't we celebrate that instead? On that same line, if we involve sex, why are we filling the pages of our books with the physicality of it? What really matters should be the emotional impact and connection it garners. Think about it. What legacy do we want to leave to our children through the written word: one of the physicality of sex or one that values the depth of the human spirit?
Finally, Sherry K. Plummer once said,“You can travel the world and never leave your chair when you read a book.” I fear with defining new adult as one of the categories of the literary world, our passports will never be stamped. After everything that has happened in this world, books should be able to take us outside of ourselves and experience what we couldo therwise not. Be swept away to a meeting with Maya Angelou and her close friends in All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes; learn about how Africa is viewed as her Mother and how she views life. Don’t sit in your dorm and readabout a girl who lives in a dorm on a campus oh so similar to yours. That’sludicrous. Broaden your horizons instead of inspecting your pores in a makeup mirror. Plus, with that logic, we should probably set up the following sections in Barnes and Noble:
             -5-12: Children
             -12-18: Young Adult.
             -18-25: New Adult.
             -25-30: Career Adult.
             -30-40: Just Adult.
             -40-50: Mid-life Adult.
             -50-60: Old Adult.
             -60-70: Retiring Adult.
             -70-80: New Senior.
             -80-90: Old Senior.
             -90-100: Ancient Senior.
             Seriously.
             In the end, I agree that the transition between high school and college is a bumpy ridefor many mediums, including literature. I do not, however, agree that creating a new genre, especially the new adult as is, is the right answer. Furthermore, your thoughts are just as important as mine. Do you think that the new adult genre is a marketing ploy? Do publishing houses have a point: is there no audience for it? Where do males play a part in this? The questions are not infinite, but they are extensive. Ask away. Answer. Respond.

Until next time.
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If you would like to read more on the new adult genre and the opinions expressed on its various fronts, please take a look at these resources, which helped me understand its current developments:

3 comments:

  1. Ohhh my gosh I am DYING at the end part where you list how Barnes and Noble might have to start cataloging their books and you have the whole "new senior, old senior, ancient senior" bit. BAHAHAHAHA. XD

    So many good points in this post. At first I was excited to hear about new adult because I am the target age demographic and there are definitely times when I feel like I can't relate to YA anymore, but then I realized it was less about good literature and more about putting in torrid sex and I was like ehhhh I think I'll pass. :/

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    1. Thank you! I was excited to hear about new adult at first, too, because of the same reasons. It stinks that the genre that they want needs to revolve around something like sex because a lot of stuff happens in that age range that could potentially be great books. But then again, some of that stuff has already been translated into novels; it's just a matter of finding them! :)

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  2. You know, I can see your side but I don't really agree with it. Especially about the sex part. I've read a few New Adult books (yes, some are published) and they were really good and delt with the hardship of moving away from your family and, yes, sex. But just because sex is in the book doesn't mean that it's a bad book. You might believe so (not saying that you do - it just seems like you do) but a lot of people don't. And for the passport thing, I've read books about Paris and Scotland, but this doesn't make me not want to go to those places or to go to these places, and the same is with new adult books. It's just something new and interesting books for NA to read about.

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