You're, let's say, a young adult floating in that hazy 18-25-year-old range where you may or may not be resisting grown-up responsibilities by playing Arkanoid and drinking Pepsi Max in your parents' basement. Maybe you recently embarked on a month-long project to re-read all the Harry Potter books and thereby recapture the magic and whimsy of your not-so-distant adolescence. In that case, publishing companies would like to introduce you to a burgeoning new category of fiction, something industry folks are tentatively calling "new adult" fiction, the genre where, writes the New York Times' Leslie Kaufman, "Harry Potter meets Fifty Shades of Gray."
The thing about regular old YA fiction is, there's no sex, at least not without some mitigating metaphor like vampire bites or Quidditch. (Just try and tell yourself that those brooms aren't some sort of Freudian representation of dicks — they're made of wood, you put them between your legs. It's like, we all get it J.K. Rowling — Quidditch = flying orgy.) That's fine for snickering pre-adolescents who maybe have slow danced at arm's length with a middle-school crush, but when that demographic matures into raging sex fiends, publishing companies have to craft a whole new book franchise to appeal to a whole new generation of incipient readers. Far easier, Kaufman explains, for publishers to just add sex into YA novels and market those sexed-up books to post-adolescents:
The goal [with the "new adult" label] is to retain young readers who have loyally worked their way through series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight, all of which tread lightly, or not at all, when it comes to sexual encounters. In the "Twilight" books, for instance, readers are kept out of the bedroom when Bella and Edward, the endlessly yearning lead characters, finally consummate their relationship.
Providing more mature material, publishers reason, is a good way to maintain devotion to books among the teenagers who are scooping up young-adult fiction and making it the most popular category in literature, with a crossover readership that is also attracting millions of adults. All while creating a new source of revenue.
Case in point: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing this week released (in e-book only) an "uncut and uncensored" version of The Vincent Boys and The Vincent Brothers, which were aimed at teenage readers and both reached the USA Today bestseller list after author Abbi Glines published them over the summer. Other such "new adult" titles include Losing It by Cora Carmack, about a college senior who decides to lose her virginity in a one-night stand, and Easy by Tammara Walker, about a college freshman who has both a new love interest AND a new stalker because college is crazy.
Not everyone, however, thinks that a "new adult" genre means much beyond fulfilling its function as a "Parental Advisory" sticker on books that have slightly more explicit scenes than those chastely enjoyed by Ron and Harry (boarding school? invisibility cloak? let's be subtextual readers). There's always been a lot of thinly veiled sex in YA books — "new adult" just lets publishers unabashedly sex-up their books so that older audiences can feel like they haven't just spent $15 to read about heavy-petting and awkward, breathless fumbling.
"New adult" books are selling like nutella-basted hotcakes on the internet, and Elizabeth Chandler, a found of Goodreads.com, told the Times that, since 2011, new-adult fiction has been gaining in popularity on her site, going from a negligible number of titles to some 14,000. People, it would seem, are reading, which is great and all, but some more rarefied literary critics worry that, by getting its claws into adolescent readers, YA fiction and "new adult" fiction prevents nascent Proust scholars from refining their literary palate. As part of the New Yorker's recent profile of J.K. Rowling, Ian Parker queried Alan Taylor, the despondent editor of the Scottish Review of Books, about Rowling's influence on an entire generation of readers:
They were giving their childhood to this woman! They were starting at seven, and by the time they were sixteen they were still reading bloody Harry Potter-sixteen-year-olds, wearing wizard outfits, who should have been shagging behind the bike shed and smoking marijuana and reading Camus.
Taylor's point was more that the Potter books don't incite rebellion, rather, they, in Parker's words, "validate the concerns of ordinary children," a criticism you can either take at face-value or interpret as "Harry Potter was really, really bourgeois." Maybe that's, like, just Alan Taylor's opinion or whatever, but Princess Diaries author Meg Cabot at least partially validated Taylor's fears of a generation trapped in placid, unquestioning adolescence when she explained to the Times what her audience looks like for her new (sexier) series about a woman who is resident assistant at a New York college:
This is for a generation that is having an extended adolescence - maybe they would like to leave home but can't, because they can't find a job. This is about escaping to a new life in New York - it is like going to boarding school with wizards, only aged up appropriately.
Maybe that generation of readers is lingering at boarding school for just a little too long. Then again, re-reading The Hobbit is a treat and that book was written for children who could probably read Latin. Can you read Latin?
Beyond Wizards and Vampires, to Sex [NY Times]