Somewhere between the Twilight series and The Nanny Diaries, publishing marketers decided that twenty-somethings lacked a relevant fiction genre. YA novels hold our attention and adult fiction contains the thematic content that we greedily consume, yet neither adequately address the awkward Peter Pan phase many millennials experience.
In 2009, St. Martin’s Press challenged novelists to a contest in which they introduced the New Adult Fiction genre—fiction aimed at the average twenty-something. The last few years have resulted in an explicit combination of chick lit and coming-of-age themes.
A quick search of New Adult Fiction on Goodreads, Amazon.com, and other best-seller lists results in exclusively romance novels, mostly with erotic themes. Most titles are self-published or e-books, and contain a mix of traditional pulp romance with Vampire stories and New York City coming-of-age dramas.
Best-sellers in this genre include Losing It, about a recent graduate who craves losing her virginity and Walking Disaster, a series sequel that follows a volatile and invincible college hot-head caught off guard by a cardigan-wearing, good girl archetype. And unsurprisingly, originality and substance are nonexistent in these books.
New Adult Fiction adds 10 years of mature content to the traditional coming-of-age storyline. Explicit sex scenes are relevant to today’s reader, as well as drug usage and narratives with little substance. But why all the romance, when some readers just want college-set YA?
Possibly, this is why The Hunger Games series exploded—because it was one of the few stories that incorporated a legitimate narrative. One reviewer suggested that “many books that would fit that area tend to be submitted by professionally immature writers who are still in college, so they’re just not publishable yet.” I doubt this is entirely the case. Our generation marries later than previous generations. We consume anything containing sex and action, possibly more so when faced with delayed careers and an inability to live independently.
We are marketable to this genre, but are we content to be so? If we want fiction that explores the angst in our stage of life, we should explore David Eggers or David Foster Wallace—stories that speak to our desire to drown in philosophically morose themes and empathize with post-grad reality. If we crave quality romance, classics from Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen should be the first on the table.
Without real existential crises to face in our consuming narratives, or themes that reach deeper into our hungry Peter Pan souls, we will continue to search for something more.