#NAAugust Discussion: What sets New Adult apart from Young Adult and Adult?

Posted August 12, 2016 by Dani in Blog Tours, New Adult August // 2 Comments

#NAAugust Discussion: What sets New Adult apart from Young Adult and Adult?

Welcome to another day of New Adult August! We’re talking about all things New Adult throughout this month, and you can find out what we’ve shared so far and what to expect right here!

This is very much a continuation of last week’s discussion, so let’s first recap what the general consensus was with regards to the definition of New Adult.

New Adult fiction is a category of fiction in which the main characters are between the ages of 18 and 30, and that deals with issues relating to entering adulthood, such as building adult relationships, obtaining higher education, starting a career, moving away from the family home and so on. NA fiction often explores sexuality, and, as a result, is often more explicit in its sex scenes.

I also just want to say a HUGE thank you to the people who contributed to the survey results, as it was so interesting and enlightening to read everyone’s thoughts on the matter!


What separates New Adult from Young Adult fiction?

Well, it comes as no surprise that the main deciding factor according to my survey of authors and readers is age.

Hand-in-hand with age, YA and NA typically deal with different life experiences:

  • YA characters are figuring out who they are, while NA characters have a sense of who they are but now need to figure out where that fits into the outside world.
  • YA characters focus on school and how to get to the next stage of life (e.g. grades for college), while NA characters focus on preparing for their careers or actually (try to) start their careers.
  • college responsibilitiesYA characters typically have their families at hand to make a lot of the decisions, and at least in realistic fiction, those family members will generally control the day-to-day, such as housing, food and other necessities. On the other hand, NA characters have usually left home and are learning to take care of themselves.
  • YA characters are starting to become their own people and test the boundaries, but they are still under the authority of their parents or other guardians. In NA, characters experience a transition from seeing their parents as all-knowing to being more…consultants.
  • When YA characters screw up, someone helps them to clean up the mess. When NA characters screw up, it’s their responsibility.

being an adult is terrible

  • In YA, characters might be more focussed on starting a flirtation or romance, while NA characters might begin pondering something more committed, like marriage or children. OR, in NA, they might be dealing with pressure to think about these things when they’re not ready or might not want them.
  • AND YES, SEX IS A BIG PART, TOO! YA characters might be thinking about kissing and usually just starting their sexual journeys, while NA characters have probably had sex already and are now exploring their options more, and possibly also thinking about the longterm and whether a relationship is worth investing into.

That last point was expanded on by KD Proctor:

There is also the sexual/intimate parts of NA that are different from YA. It isn’t just about sex–because sex IS happening in YA novels. It’s things like engagements, questioning if a relationship is what they want, ending long time relationships for something new and exciting, rekindling past relationships.

Some people said there was an overlap between NA and YA, in that some books that take place at the start of a college experience can still be YA, especially if the book is light on more NA themes or explicit sex. Lyssa Chiavari touches on how YA and NA can sometimes cross over with the following:

NA and YA have a lot of similarities in that they’re both about young people learning to find their way in the world, becoming their true authentic selves, and forging their identity, but for a lot of people, that doesn’t happen in high school because you’re still insulated. You’re still in your home town (usually), with many of your same friends and your family around. In college (or post-school), most often you’re on your own, in a new place that you chose to be at. That gives a different dynamic and really allows you to change and grow.

Pat Esden, author of The Dark Heart series, also mentioned the overlap:

The issues confronted in NA and YA can be exactly the same, but the characters in NA will experience them, react, and deal with the issues from a slightly more mature perspective. NA generally have more independence, more past experiences to use as a frame of reference, and a wider range of choices.

I really liked this answer from Rachel of Confessions of a Book Geekabout how NA has often resolved some of the issues of adolescence and has moved onto something more:

Generally, the issues that are present in YA have developed in NA. It’s less about teen cliques and first love butterflies, and more about learning who you are and what you want from life. Developing more meaningful, or more intense relationships, and moving on to the next stage, whatever that may be. Romances are usually depicted with more maturity and more realistically, in terms of people having real foreplay and real sex, you know, the things “new adults” actually do.

Writer Sara Mariah (@saramwrites) said something similar:

While YA seems to focus on the main character (or characters) figuring out who they are, NA, to me, feels more like the main character(s) are working on figuring out how they figure into the mix. Taking the age demographic into consideration, I feel like the main characters are a little more worldly, maybe a little bit more jaded, and have a deeper understanding of the world around them than their YA counterparts. Oh, and there’s more graphic sex. That, too.

I really love that bit about the characters being a bit more jaded, a little more knowing, as I think that’s true. While in high school, you might be told you’re supposed to be thinking critically, you’re still just focused on doing what the teachers tell you to do to get the grade. I personally found that I became more critical once I went to university and started questioning people, possibly also trusting the world at large a little less. (Part of this may have been because the boyfriend was studying philosophy, so I had to learn to argue.)

Also, a note on science fiction, dystopias and fantasies. In a lot of these, the teen characters might already be taking on adult responsibilities such as finding food, but these are still handled in such a way that the reader is aware of the discrepancy between their own experiences and the characters’. Furthermore, the characters will still be “young adults” in other ways, such as testing out new friendships and having their first romantic experiences. This will be explored in the 4th week more, but in the cases of SFF books, a useful shorthand that I use is to ask two initial questions: how old are the main characters, and how much explicit sex is there?

Ultimately, the three things that set apart YA and NA novels are: age, sex, location. (HAHAHA joking joking. Kinda.) No, the main distinctions are: age, sex, maturity and independence.


What sets New Adult from Adult fiction?

frightening life adultAgain, age is a major factor to consider, but I noticed another recurring theme to the responses. Quite a lot of them said that the main characters in Adult novels already know who they are and what they’re doing (to an extent). They know how to take care of themselves. They already have established careers and/or roles in life. They might have serious relationships and children (or even grandchildren).

Adult books might still have children or teens in them as characters, but they’re often looking back at that time with mature lenses on, critiquing the actions of the younger people.

Jamie Stewart said that each stage has a different amount of “whimsy”:

NA is still FUN! There is still a sense of whimsy, vitality, and opportunity that drives the story forward. In YA the character’s whole future spans out in front of them. As that character gets older and starts making big decisions about his/her life, some of the doors begin to close. NA reflects that. Adult novels, they’re not as open. Adult characters can be locked into marriage or into a job they now have to keep to support a family they’ve started. Adults have fewer choices. This is not to say Adult novels can’t contain whimsy. As with most things, I think it’s all relative.

A special shoutout to Chelsea of Books for Thought, who said that Adult books tend to be more formally written and have a lot of “boring parts”. Girl, I’m with you. 😀

peter pan grown up

Personally? Adult books, especially Literary Fiction, are less likely to have a resolution at the end, especially one that’s nice and tidy. Except in the cases of books like those by Louise O’Neill, YA and NA still have happily ever afters. What it takes to get to the HEA is usually more intense in NA than YA, and those HEAs are often linked to sexy times in NA, but NAs still have them. Adult fiction is more “real”, more ambiguous.


Should teenagers be allowed to read NA?

This might seem like a silly question to some, but I was curious to see what people thought. If YA is geared towards teens, and NA might go beyond experiences that teens have, should teens be shielded from those experiences?

Here’s what the results were:

  • 54% said yes
  • 11% said with parental screening and permission
  • 35% said it depends

No one said that NA should be off limits to teen readers, and that makes me so happy. Personally, I think teens should be allowed to read NA and up if they feel like they’re ready for it.

me gustaNow, I’m going to share something with you that will probably come as no surprise. If it’s out there, teens will read it. After hearing that I’d read Twilight in the 11th grade, a classmate recommended that I read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. She told me to just read the first few, as they eventually took a turn for the sexy. And by that she meant that they eventually became more sex and less plot. HA. Yeah, I kept reading them up until I left school and went to university, which is when I pretty much stopped reading for pleasure for a few years. (I know, bad Dani.)

(Btw, I preferred the Merry Gentry series because YES FAERIES.)

NEEDLESS TO SAY, I was basically reading paranormal romance/erotica at the age of 16, and I turned out sort of all right. WHATYA GONNA DO.


How do you separate YA, NA and Adult fiction? Did you read NA or Adult fiction as a teenager? Did you read erotica as a teenager? (Come on, don’t be shy!)

2 responses to “#NAAugust Discussion: What sets New Adult apart from Young Adult and Adult?

  1. This post was spot on for how I view differences between YA/NA/Adult! I exclusively read adult fantasy/sci fi as a teen that occasionally had some sex scenes (I’m looking at you Piers Anthony) and in fact never started reading YA until I was 17 – The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, etc. Well, unless you count Harry Potter but that was a one-off.

    • BAMF

      The other day, I found some of the old books I used to read at 10/11/12 and realised a lot of them were adult and had certain graphic scenes. YA wasn’t as big a thing when I was young! I jumped from children’s and MG straight to my mom’s books. It was only after I graduated from university that I really discovered YA.

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