What is a “New Adult” book anyway?
I’m a re-reader.
That’s how I know that I really LOVE a book, when I can read it a second, third, or fourth time and get just as swept away in the story as that very first time. I discovered this for the first time when I was twelve and re-reading HARRY POTTER. Since then, I have reread and loved many books, one of which stuck with me so completely that I can still recite entire quotes from it with ease. That is THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin. It was one of those books that you’re forced to read in your high school English class, and for many people it is a miserable experience. But for whatever the reason, I didn’t resent having to read that book. The story captivated me utterly, and I’m inclined to believe it is a huge part of the reason I write stories like I do.
THE AWAKENING is about a 28-year-old married woman named Edna. As you can guess, she goes through an awakening where she realizes she hasn’t truly been living. Her ideas and opinions and emotions all begin to change radically because for the first time in her life, she is determined to live life on her own terms. There is one quote that has stuck with me all these years:
“Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her… But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!”
There could not be a better way to describe the turbulent years between adolescence and adulthood, that terrifying in-between. Whether you’re at college or moving out on your own or working your first full time job—your life seems to change radically overnight. And yet for most people in that age group (18-25ish), you’re still not completely on your own. Your parents are still a large part of your life. You’re not a child anymore, but you’re also not quite an adult. You may call yourself an adult (as will others), but deep down in side you are petrified because you don’t feel like one.
At least, that’s how it was for me. It really did feel like my world was starting from scratch. I was searching for my perfect fit in this wide world. I once likened the feeling to leaving behind a comfortable pair of old shoes for new ones that fit a bit better. It’s not that you want to stay with the old shoes that have become worn out and are a bit too snug, but breaking in those new shoes takes time and can be painful. That is what New Adult books are about to me.
Young Adult books are about surviving adolescence and coming of age. New Adult is about how to live your life after that. New Adult is the “I’m officially an adult, now what?” phase. Just like growing up, that life stage is different for everyone, but I do think there are some things that are constant.
The first is figuring out who you are outside of the world in which you grew up. A few lucky people may figure out who they are when they are teenagers, but I’m inclined to think that for most of us, we just think we know who we are. Some of it might be right, but a lot of it can be very wrong. We believe things because we’ve never known there was another way to believe. We think life is a certain way until we experience the opposite.
So why are people just now hearing “New Adult” in terms of a category for fiction? Well, the world is a very different place than it was when YA first became an accepted genre. It used to be that many people got jobs straight out of high school, and only some people went on to college. And usually those who did go to college were more financially and emotionally dependent. Now, it has become the norm to go to college, and for young adults to remain in contact or even dependent upon their parents for years after graduating high school. College is the new high school, and as such that “growing up” phase has been stretched to include a few extra awkward years.
That time, like Kate Chopin says, can be vague and hard to understand. It can be chaotic (oh so chaotic). It can be a mess. We, as the “new adults” can be a mess. It can be awkward and emotionally exhausting and painful and disturbing. For me, it was a time of anxiety and self-doubt, where I questioned everything I’d always thought to be true about the world and myself. I’d grown up as an intelligent, confident, ambitious young woman. Then suddenly I was this indecisive, terrified girl who was afraid she’d made all the wrong choices and doubted her ability to achieve her dreams.
I’m twenty-five-years-old, and I still suffer from some of those symptoms. In the moments before I hit the button to self-publish LOSING IT, I felt like I was going to be sick, and was moments away from a complete breakdown. I had to turn my music on really loud, dance around, let go of the world, and completely clear my mind, so that the prospect of hitting a stupid button didn’t break me. And now LOSING IT has been more successful than I ever could have imagined. For the first time in a long time, I feel like that new world that Kate Chopin talks about is finally starting to make sense. It has become a little less vague and a little less scary.
Who would have thought that by writing about this awkward phase in life, I would begin to find my way out of it?