Can you ever be too old for Young Adult books? Despite what some people think, the many (many) adult readers of YA would answer with a resounding no. In fact, a 2012 poll found that 55% of all YA books were purchased by adults. That said, even the most ardent lovers of the genre can occasionally get tired of all the, well, high school drama. And that’s where New Adult (NA) literature comes in. A relatively recent category—it was coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009—New Adult is YA graduated from high school. The protagonists, in the 18 to late 20s range, deal with issues related to college and first jobs, and changing relationships with family and friends. Another demarcation: more sex and cursing!
The transition between youth and true adulthood—“not a girl, not yet a woman,” as Britney Spears so aptly put it—is prime for exploration. Until recently, there’s been a dearth of novels about the college experiences (at least believable ones, sorry Tom Wolfe). As NA author Cora Carmack wrote, “Young Adult books are about surviving adolescence and coming of age. New Adult is about how to live your life after that. New Adult is the ‘I’m officially an adult, now what?’ phase.”
New Adult has all the sub-genres of YA—there’s romance (a lot of romance), sci-fi, fantasy, realism, historical—and it’s a genre that’s only going to keep growing as the traditional YA audience ages up and the adult YA audience continues to read voraciously. Here are six New Adult novels to add to your reading list, with no need for those pesky age brackets.
If you’re into romance:
Just One Day and Just One Year, by Gayle Forman
A delightful duology from the author of the weepy New York Times bestseller If I Stay, these two books follow a couple who, in the tradition of Before Sunrise, meet on a train in Europe, spend a magical day (and night) together, then part. Just One Day is from the girl’s perspective—she wakes up and he’s gone. She goes home, gets a job, goes to college, but can’t stop thinking about him—and how he ditched her. Just One Year tells his side of the story—where he went, his search for her around the world, and all of their close calls and missed connections. Be sure to check out the e-book novella follow up, Just One Night, which ties up all of the loose ends and will make you swoon.
Losing It, by Cora Carmack
Twenty-two year old Bliss Edwards is a college senior and a virgin, a fact she is determined to change before she graduates. She goes out with her friend, on the hunt for a one-night stand, and ends up with a very hot, naked, British man in her bed—who just so happens to be her new professor. This is where NA becomes a handy distinction—it’s not adult literature, but it’s definitely not YA either—parents would be yanking this steamy romance out of the hands of their teens (and reading it themselves).
If you’re into realism (or fantasy):
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
If you haven’t read any of Rainbow Rowell’s books yet, get thee to a bookstore, ASAP. Fangirl is about Cath, a college freshman who is still obsessed with the Harry Potter-esque fantasy series Simon Snow. It explores changing familial relationships, as she moves out of her childhood home and heads off to college with her twin sister Wren, who wants to get the typical college experience (i.e. drinking and partying), while Cath sits in her dorm room, writing fan-fiction, and slowly falling for her roommate’s (maybe) boyfriend. If you enjoy the fan-fic portions of the book, check out Rowell’s latest novel, Carry On, the meta final installment of the fictional Simon Snow series.
If you’re into reality TV:
L.A. Candy series, by Lauren Conrad
Fans of MTV’s reality series The Hills (or it’s ilk) will definitely like these books, but there’s also a reason it’s a New York Times-bestselling series. Shockingly, they’re actually good. Lauren Conrad has a fantastic ghostwriter (apologies, co-writer), who keeps the plot moving. LC herself presumably provided the juicy details and behind-the-scenes drama you didn’t see on TV—you’ll find yourself wondering how much is real TMZ-worthy scoop. Though the average 18-year-old isn’t starring on a reality show, the characters deal with everygirl problems, including workplace challenges, changing friendships, and relationship woes. Also recommended: the follow up series, The Fame Game, from the mean girl’s perspective.
If you’re into historical fiction:
Code Name: Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
With plot twists and surprises galore, this World War II-era adventure story is a fascinating read, both for the historical details and emotional plot. Queenie is a Scottish spy in her early 20s who arrives in occupied France and almost immediately gets captured by the Nazis, for looking the wrong way before crossing the street (a detail based in history). Her best friend Maddie is the pilot who flew her in and crash-landed, getting stuck in France—a very bad place for a Jewish girl in 1943—and aiding the French Resistance. Each fears the other dead. With masterful storytelling and attention to detail, this book is an A+ crossover read for YA and NA readers alike.
If you’re into vampires:
Bloodlines series, by Richelle Mead
This follow up series to the more classically YA Vampire Academy series follows 19-year-old Sydney Sage as she deals with a career that she’s not sure she wants, family values she doesn’t agree with, and boy trouble. Sounds like your typical NA novel—except the career is as an Alchemist, an inherited position that involves cleaning up after rampaging blood-thirsty vampires. And the boy is a super hot “good” vampire, not that that distinction matters to her family—if they knew about her forbidden relationship, she’d get sent to a “re-education” center (i.e. brainwashing camp). More grown up than Twilight—and better written too.
Molly Reiniger is a YA-loving writer, based in Connecticut, who has previously worked for Country Living and Seventeen, where she lived out her middle-school fantasies writing quizzes and choosing the most-embarrassing-moment stories, the Traumaramas.