Young Adult and New Adult: What Are They? Really. 

I’m so confused by these two categories, ‘young adult’ (YA) and ‘new adult’ (NA).

I thought these categories referred to 1) the age of the target audience and/or 2) the age of the main characters featured in these books. What I’ve been told is that generally YA is targeted to the 12-18 year old set, while NA is targeted toward 18-25 year olds. The books’ MCs also typically fall into the same age groups. On both accounts, if I’m wrong, feel free to enlighten me in the comments, please.

Now, let me say in advance, this isn’t about me judging anyone outside those target demographics who chooses to read/enjoy YA or NA. This isn’t about anyone else’s reading preferences. Read what turns your crank, folks, regardless of who publishers are targeting!  It’s all about ME here…and I have some questions.

I’m far removed from my teen years so the YA category provides a much-appreciated distinction that allows this 30-something to steer clear of books targeted toward a younger demographic. Particularly, when I read romance novels. I prefer reading about adults with adult issues/conflicts. Furthermore, I prefer a certain level of “heat”, or eroticism that understandably most would not recommend an adolescent read about. I’ve read a few YA novels here and there that I liked; I knew upfront what I was getting into. Other times, I read YA books for “research” before I recommend them to my adolescent nieces who are avid readers like myself.

Then came along the NA category a few years ago. The lead characters are a little bit older; typically college-aged (though they are not necessarily students) instead of high school. These novels are also a little spicier, though usually only skirting the line of full on adult erotica. Lastly, the issues/conflicts the characters face are not quite the same as that of older characters but still relatable on some level to most adults regardless of maybe being older. Again, I have certain expectations when I decide to pick up an NA title.

So what’s my problem? 

Well…it seems as time goes by and these genres become more popular, the lines are blurring A LOT. I was on Goodreads poking around and came across a few books that just don’t fit into my well-ordered definitions for YA and NA, yet were categorized as such. One book’s blurb detailed a college-student (~21 years old) heroine and a hero in his mid-30s. If I take the term ‘new adult’ (i.e., newly indoctrinated into adulthood) literally, one of these characters fits the bill…yet I still wouldn’t define the book as NA based on the blurb describing its subject matter.

Then another, also categorized as NA, had a 40 year old heroine and a 26 year old hero. I’m sorry, but a 26 year old is a GROWN ASS MAN, who has been an adult for some time — he’s been able to do things like vote, join the armed services, get married, and buy alcohol legally without anyone’s permission for a long while.

Another time, I saw three books with 20-something hero/ines categorized as YA. Technically, yes 20-somethings are “young adults,” but if a 15 year old (or younger) picks up a book with explicit sexual situations or other mature themes, some parents would rightly feel some kind of way about their child reading content beyond their level of maturity. Similarly, although less problematic in the scheme of things, if I get a book categorized as ‘adult’ but it ends up being about teenage primary characters, I’m a bit miffed.

I’m by no means suggesting that books with mature content be removed altogether online. Categorizing books appropriately will definitely help in the effort of mature content landing in the hands in which it was intended. Furthermore, maybe policing groups could have a seat and let me have access to whatever adult-centered content I choose to read.

These categories were created to help readers find the books we want to read (or don’t, for that matter). Whether I’m a 30-something looking for YA and NA or looking to steer clear of it, I know what I’m spending my time and money on in advance.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let me know in the comments.