Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why New Adult Is Getting Old

It is difficult to condemn an entire genre--obviously, there are exceptions to every rule--but man is it getting old seeing the same types of books topping the best seller charts over and over again.

If, for some reason, you've been living under a rock for the last two years and somehow missed the frenzied rush to cash in on the latest trend, "new adult" is essentially older YA that takes place in the 18-24 age bracket, typically during, pre- or post-college. And everyone is doing it.

In principle, new adult is a great idea. Before the sudden explosion in popularity, the 18-24 age bracket was sorely under-represented in popular fiction. Back in college, my roommates and I loved reading YA, but it was frustrating, being stuck with characters who were so much younger than we were, and who lived in what was, by and large, a world that even Disney wouldn't mind.

When I heard some of the summaries about popular new adult titles, I was excited. Finally, I could read about characters in my age bracket who explored real, edgy issues, like drug use, sexuality, living on one's own for the first time, going off to college for the first time, and so on. I read several of the most popular new adult titles to satisfy my curiosity, and then came to a very depressing realization: these books were not about my life--and they're not about the lives of anyone I know.

Most new adult books have been reduced to a simple formula:

Girl meets boy. Boy is trouble. Girl doesn't care. They both live happily ever after.

Worse, still: these books often include gratuitous slut-shaming (i.e. punishing a woman for being sexual, or actively pursuing sex), unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancy, and domestic violence and rape masquerading as romance. It is not uncommon, for example, to have the male protagonist beat up men (and sometimes women) while the female character looks on. Usually, the male protagonist coerces the (usually virgin) heroine into a sexual relationship, during which they typically do not use a condom. At the end of the book, the heroine often finds out she's pregnant, and it ends with a wedding. They are racist, homophobic, and in general propagate a close-minded attitude that I'd really hate to see go mainstream because it is so hateful, and willfully ignorant.

If the book does take place in a college setting, it has been my experience that these colleges often resemble rich high schools. There are cliques, everyone seems to know everyone, and nobody seems to spend any actual time in class pursuing higher knowledge. The heroine frequently ends up dropping out, or taking a year off, and smart people are portrayed as being ugly, bitchy, or pathetic. Most women who read are highly intelligent, even if they wouldn't describe themselves as intellectuals, necessarily, and I can't help but wonder what the appeal is in a book that is so condemnatory about what is--for me, anyway--such an integral part of who I am.

That isn't to say that there aren't any good new adult books out there--there are--but from what I have seen the bad outweigh the good. Unfortunately, until these books stop making money, they are going to keep being published, and the speed and relative convenience of self-publishing has ensured that the market will remain heavily saturated. All trends must come to an end, though, and I harbor some small hope that one day, someone will wake up and realize that the lives of men and women, ages 18 to 24, are so much more complex and meaningful than we are making them out to be.

Until that day, however, I'm going to walk the moment I see a white, straight, cis couple kissing in the rain on the cover of a book that promises me an "edgy," "gritty" tale with "dark content."

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