Over the past several years, the genre of ‘New Adult’ has become hugely popular–often a sub-genre of romance, you can find it as its own dedicated category no matter where you buy books. As far as I’m aware, the name, or even the idea, didn’t exist until fairly recently. According to the Wikipedia article on it, St. Martin’s Press coined the phrase ‘New Adult’ in 2009.
When New Adult first became a thing, I admit I was confused by it. A step above Young Adult, it typically focuses on twenty-somethings. Well, I thought, isn’t that just…fiction that’s not YA or children’s? Then, learning more about it, I discovered that typically New Adult focuses on the trials and tribulations of passing into adulthood, often in college (though not all New Adult is set in college). Basically, that unwieldy and frightening time in your life when you’re trying to cut the apron strings and be a functioning adult out in the real world. After understanding it, I wrinkled my nose–why on earth would I want to relive that time in my life? I’ve maintained disinterest ever since.
Then recently (for superficial reasons I’ll explain below) I started watching a type of TV show that I never watch. I’m a drama and horror and darkness kind of gal. I love The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, and Peaky Blinders, just to name a few. I loved Breaking Bad. I like intensity and grit and heart-stopping action. I don’t really get into comedy or fluff. HOWEVER…
There’s a teen-ish slice of life show on MTV (of all networks!) called Awkward, which I moved myself to watch a few episodes of because one of my favorite actors (the lovely Evan Williams) is in it in the later seasons, and really, who among us hasn’t gritted their teeth through some ridiculous drivel for their favorite actors? Except, once I got into it, it wasn’t ridiculous drivel. It was inexplicably funny and charming and poignant in parts, and while most of the characters are overblown caricatures, it’s done in an amusing and entertaining way. I started watching it when Mr. Williams entered the show, which was when the main character was in her final year of high school, and then she moves on to college. My eyes glazed over as I inexplicably binge-watched.
And then I realized…I’m watching New Adult!
After sitting with myself for some time, it finally clicked for me why New Adult–and Young Adult–are so popular, especially outside their target audience (the reviews for Awkward on Amazon show that a large percentage of the viewers are my age). It’s about nostalgia. High school and college are a microcosm that we never really experience again in life. High school was that time when there was so much high-tension drama, but it was fluffy drama because you weren’t paying your own bills and your parents still fed you. College is where we shape ourselves and learn who we are, but in a cubby hole of supportive and equally confused proto-adults. The rest of our lives are second jobs, taxes, sick babies, and broken water heaters. Why wouldn’t we want to go back to that simpler, and in retrospect, more fun time?
Of course nostalgia can be painful too, and some of us didn’t have a fun microcosm, but the purpose of art is to move us, so maybe some of us want those difficult feelings as well.
Maybe I need to pick up a few books and give New Adult a try after all…