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New Adult Fiction


When I heard that New Adult was becoming a thing, I was really excited. I spent a lot of my first post-college year feeling kind of lost, and wishing there were books about characters my age, going through the sorts of things I was going through. And if not that, at least some books about characters in college, so I could feel close to their experiences. I wanted more books about female characters who weren’t teenagers.

Turns out the New Adult is just repackaged romance. And usually, it seems, not even good romance. It’s not at all about the female protagonist, and entirely about the true love she’s about to discover.

In fact, if you’ve read one New Adult novel, you’ve read them all. Sweet innocent usually studious and scholarly girl goes to college. She doesn’t fit in with her party girl friends, and is a bit of an outcast as a result (because no one actually studies in college!). She meets a bad-boy guy with a heart of gold. One or the other of them has some dark past trauma that needs dealing with. They fall in love, but drama happens. And somewhere along the way, there’s some kind of sexual assault plot. For flavor.

If someone can find a New Adult novel that doesn’t adhere to these tropes, I would love to hear about it. But I’ve yet to find it.

I just finished reading True by Erin McCarthy. Like all of the New Adult novels I’ve come across, it’s almost entirely romance-focussed. It was a fairly quick, enjoyable read, with some good chemistry between the main characters, but seriously. It stuck to these tropes in a way that didn’t even make sense. The first chapter involves a sexual assault on the main character which is basically never mentioned again. The hero rescues her, but seems more mad that the guy kicked our heroine after the fact than about the assault itself. None of the characters friends take it seriously at all. It is a complete non-event, thrown in simply as a reason for our hero and heroine to interact. 

The books I’ve read swing from being kind of substanceless and melodramatic to frankly offensive. Rape is a plot device. The heroine is “not like other girls,” because she doesn’t party and sleep with random guys every night. And the guy is always the most important thing to happen in her life.

As I’ve heard it being called in the media, New Adult is less the exploration of what life is life for college-age and early-twenties women, and more “Fifty Shades of Grey set in college,” all offensiveness included. I’m really disappointed. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.


Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

6 thoughts on “New Adult Fiction

  1. I think Vampire Academy semi-departs from that pattern. I mean it does have a romance but there is a central female friendship in the series,and the books focus on the more strong willed one of the two.

  2. New Adult has a lot of good stuff coming up, but unfortunately the ones publishers found most commercial tended to be entirely romance focused. There are a lot of NA writers with really compelling stories that either haven’t been bought or aren’t on shelves yet. So don’t lose hope!

    1. I’ll definitely keep looking! Hopefully as the genre grows and its shown that books about people in that age group sell, we’ll get more variety too. :)

  3. I was really excited when I first read about New Adult becoming a thing about five years ago, because I thought, “At last! Know Not Why has a genre!” But it definitely seems like what the genre is shaping into is not what I thought it would be. Not yet, at least!

  4. I highly highly recommend Unteachable by Leah Raeder although the main character is a senior in high school, it still feels New Adult to me (maybe because of all the sex lol). Even though it is romance focused, it follows none of the tropes that are common in New Adult. Also, no slut shaming which was a bonus for me :)

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