This week I stumbled on an interesting blog post from an Australian writer that proposes a new genre for novels that could fall into either the YA or general adult categories. The suggested name for this is New Adult (hopefully NA rather than NAF!) and was I think originally conceived to identify an alternative to chick lit for twenty-something readers. As the author of a novel with a young protagonist this proposal interests me on a number of counts, but so far I’m not convinced.
First of all, books about young adults have been around for a very long time. They include everything from Catcher in the Rye to The Crow Road, Human Croquet and White City Blue. If asked I would describe these (and also my own A Kettle of Fish) as coming of age, or rites of passage novels.
Still, I admit I don’t hear either of these labels used much – and so I wouldn’t be averse to a new name to give this topic (and my pitch!) a shot in the arm. But I think there’s a danger with New Adult as a label, because to me it confuses two ideas: one being the content or subject matter of a book (romance, historical, sci-fi or whatever) and the other the intended audience (children, teens, young adults) In other words, because a book is about ‘new adults’ this is not necessarily its intended readership.
After all, books about children (Lord of the Flies, Black Swan Green) are not necessarily children’s books. Nor would I classify (oops, the librarian coming out in me here) any of the coming of age novels I’ve mentioned as being New Adult Fiction, (even though many 18-25 year-olds might read them) because as far as I’m aware they do not assume an audience of any particular age.
The danger with badges – as pointed out in the ‘age banding’ debate some time ago – is that they might restrict the audience for a book rather than make it more widely attractive, and so I’d be very wary of giving what is in effect an age-band to a book that could appeal to any age group.
Of course there will always be some true ‘crossovers’ where books (like the Harry Potter series or The Lovely Bones) move from a more restricted audience or genre into the wider market. But I don’t think it works the other way. Young adults will always be encouraged to read ‘up’ to adult level, or do so of their own volition, but we don’t have to consider any adult fiction to be a crossover to YA just because the subject matter makes it a good place for younger adults to start.
Despite some hard thinking (for a bank holiday!) I still don’t think I’ve nailed this, and it would still be good to find a new label for A Kettle of Fish, but at least there is one that will do for now, so I think I’ll stick with ‘coming of age’ until anyone thinks of something better.
By the way, like any self-respecting media person I’m heading back to St. Andrews again soon, but I promise the trip will be royalty free.