First off, I just want to say that these were the first two books I read that are shelved under the New Adult genre: Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire and Easy by Tammara Weber. Secondly, I won a copy of Breaking Nova by Jessica Sorensen but I haven’t read it yet despite the massive amount of rave reviews on it. If you know anything about NA or even dabble in it, these three authors’ names should ring a bell because they’re the dominating queens of NA and all those books are wildly popular among the community. However, I’ve gotten the gist of what NA has to offer all wrapped up in the package of a protagonist in college dealing with angsty dark secrets, sexual encounters, super gorgeous love interests, and…oh did I mention lots of angst and dark secrets that involve trigger topics? I read these books back in 2012 when the New Adult genre was just catching on to become today’s most marketable, widespread trend but the basic formula has stayed unchanged.
I don’t read avidly in regards to books belonging to the vibrant, emerging New Adult genre that recently burst onto the popular scene but I can still say much relatively to its underlying problems. NEW ADULT. It’s toted as the edgier and sexier 2.0 version of the young adult genre. New Adult usually goes hand in hand with the contemporary genre which means that while ‘young adult’ would place its characters in high school, NA puts its characters in the gritty, sensual setting of the college life. There are some NA books I’ve read that try to defy the stereotypical college setting by placing its characters in the drug-ridden streets but they’re not as popular and hardly can be categorized as only NA. Obsession by Jennifer Armentrout and Dirty Angels by Karina Halle both tried to break out of that genre and but they were also shelved under Adult so that took a bit out of their credibility. Part of the reason some books are so eager to exist under multiple shelves (like NA and Adult) is probably due to marketing towards a wider audience to prevent limiting its influence/sales.
Here’s a compiled list of things distinctly wrong with the NA genre that I can think off the top of my head:
- Lack of diversity– How is it possible in a world, especially college, to have a complete homogeneous mixture of the same race? Listen up, there is a thing called diversity in college where the school actually makes an effort to accept students of all types of ethnicities. I already have a problem with the majority of young adult books written about white, usually blonde, blue-eyed models posing on the front covers. The main characters are white and even if they aren’t, they are riddled with stereotypes or have characteristics that are inaccurately portrayed. This white privilege is especially prominent because a lot of readers assume ALL of the characters to be white unless otherwise stated. Here’s a way to test this: Think of any YA/NA books in which a non-white plays a significant role. Got anything?
(P.S. In Julie Kagawa‘s The Immortal Rules, Allie Sekemoto is explicitly stated as Asian [Japanese, going by her last name] and yet the book cover features a white girl.)
- Inaccuracy of College Life– Um, the attention spent on the fun aspects are unrealistically focused on parties which are portrayed to make up 90% of what everyone’s time is devoted to. Party life is not something people go to every night because first, academic work is more rigorous and more than in high school and second, sleep deprivation happens when there’s that 8AM class to go to. Sure, students are more than welcome to skip class since attendance is mandatory. But what kind of shitty college do you go to that you do not even go to classes that you/your parents paid for? People don’t have disputes in dining halls and neither do they in class because it’s embarrassing and disruptive to other students and faculty. Maybe in high school, fights happen but you don’t want to risk expulsion or getting documented in college which might affect your future in getting hired or an internship. Yes, all NA books are romance-driven so it’s the main focus but college must not function as a background but be incorporated into how it shapes the characters’ identities. This requires a skill called “World-Building” and it should exist in the plot instead of letting readers go on their own assumptions because each college has differences markedly distinguishable from one another. The sheer propensity of multiple prof-student love affairs, scandalous class flirting interplay, and the ambiguous dynamics of professors’ teachings and grading simply are ridiculous in a real life setting. There are no excuses for late work unless the person has a disability or has a medical excuse (as in, a broken leg not a puny flu). If this happens all the time at college, then it must be a mediocre college to hire these incompetent professors.
- Trigger Topic #1: Sexuality & Gender Stereotype– These two go hand in hand whenever books mention a character’s number of partners and frequency of sexytime. Women are casually labeled whores and sluts but men can get away with laying different girls each night without any stigma attached to them. Sure, girls may be warned against them. Or, these guys become ‘legends’ and gain a reputation of being alluring and desirable. There’s a circulating popular icon of girls acting seductive while staying pure and virginal. Oh sure, it’s okay for guys to flirt back at other girls because they can’t help it that they have so many admirers.
They can have many girls as simple friends but girls who have a lot of guy friends are frowned upon and looked at suspiciously. If a girl has multiple sexual partners, whoaaa, an uproar and reputation just from that one act!! A guy does that and it’s normalized. This is the crux of the problem: the author normalizes it instead of pointing out the hypocrisy or giving the protagonist clarity to think upon the double standards.
Sure, this book may simply be reflecting society’s views and it does not mean that the author supports calling girls whores/sluts/bitches but the presence of those words in the book promotes slut-shaming culture and by not commenting on it, the passivity is presumed to be agreement.
- Trigger Topic #2: Rape/Family Dysfunction– If this is really NA, believe it or not, rape and family issues will come up eventually in some shape or form. Rape might be the deep dark secret that the girl is hiding (this is so popular that it’s ridiculous). Someone else was assaulted or raped. Someone might have sex but it was forced or consent was not precisely given. The character’s family are dead, struggle with money, lack affection, are abusive, etc. Either way, rarely has it been handled well because the blame, guilt, anger, and peer reactions is very shallow and pitched as an angst that keeps the couple apart. It becomes a tool utilized in the book that makes the characters feel insecure and unable to be loved. In actuality, I prefer conflict that does not ride on the backs of “healing or fixing” the beloved one. Everyone is a little broken but NA lingers too long on the angst when the book can be so easily cut down on a hundred pages. Who wants to read 450 pages worth of whining and rumination?
The issue of money, time, and effort these students must place into maintaining grades and paying tuition hardly seem to ever show up. Why? Finance is important enough in YA to be mentioned in contemporary novels. These New Adult characters are so privileged that money is not the first thing they worry about upon waking up. These are often not a barrier or conflict in NA books. There are no economic problems, only love problems. And that in itself is a problem.
It’s safe to say I’m avoiding Breaking Nova for now because I’m not the ideal reader for it. We’ll see what changes time will make so that I may one day be able to stomach it.
Disclaimer: This is only my opinion, I know there are books out there that challenge these notions, and I’d be more than happy to take suggestions. I, in no way, am targeting specific books and I’m open to discussion. I wish you luck on your endeavors into any genre!