New Adult Grab Bag

West End LibraryStaff Picks

New Adult Grab Bag

All About That... Angst

Though there seem to be clear markers of the sub-genre, "New Adult Fiction" is a slightly contentious label. The term was coined to individuate books about people navigating an entry into the "real world" that follows high school and/or college.

The books tend to feature characters locating themselves in the context of adulthood and leaning into the selves they hope to become. Contextually, these books mark a departure from adolescent worries and the metaphors highlighting a character's uniqueness which are so reassuringly integral to the young adult genre; rather, "New Adult" books deal in the disillusionment and anxiety that come from finding one's self encountering and managing the experience of the world as a new adult. 

Focusing primarily on characters between the ages of 18-29, the books offer readers an opportunity to feel connected with what it means to be in that stage of life. They are frequently very personal and intimately nestled within the mind of the protagonist. Of course, just as there is no "typical" new adult, there are no truly "typical" new adult books and the sub-genre is populated with books that are widely variant. Hopefully, if this is the type of thing in which you might be interested, one of the below books will seem appealing:

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
One of the only nonfiction books I have read (not a biography) that really feels like a new adult book, this book by Caitlin Doughty brings us up close and personal with the caustic realities of death as it exists within our own minds and within today's profit-driven funeral industry. 

The author, Caitlin, begins work as a new professional in the funeral industry and actively brings to light the behind the scenes activities she encounters as a result of the positions and professional development to which she is exposed. As readers, we gain insight into the funeral industry, her activist beliefs and opinions on it, and exposure to a small part of her personal life. Told in an engagingly up-front voice, this book is a great addition to what I would consider "new adult."
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
Nevada takes a hard look at the realities of existing as a rootless adult in an urban setting. Imogen Binnie, the author, reminds readers of how much who we are is shaped by the opinions of the world and people around us. The book follows Maria, a post-transition transgender protagonist, as she attempts to manage the disconnect she feels between her life, her partner, and her self. It vacillates between highs of optimism and the lows of personal realizations of powerlessness. Not really a light read, but brutally honest in its portrayal of gender in the life of its main character. 

Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley
The most fantastical of the books comprising this list, Seconds is a graphic novel written by Bryan Lee O'Malley. It offers us the life of Katie, a chef at a restaurant called Seconds, and explores what happens when she obtains the opportunity to re-write her anxiety-ridden professional and personal decisions. The means of this opportunity is mysterious and only understood by one other person in her life.

Though its plot contains mystical elements, the book is very grounded in what it means to be a young person finding your way in the world, balancing romantic relationships with the sense of self and the desire for personal and professional achievement that comes from following what you are passionate about.

Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain
Necessary Errors follows the character of Jacob Putnam as he travels from the United States to Prague and begins to stamp out a tenuous (and temporary) life for himself in Prague as an expatriate writer. Living in Prague during the time of the Velvet Revolution, he stumbles on a small circle of other expatriates with whom he warmly, if somewhat distantly, associates.

The book, comprised of 480 pages, falls hard but muffled into the back of the reader's consciousness; rising and falling in small measures with the ups and downs of Jacob's social experiences. Like all of us, Jacob withdraws as much as he reaches out and we see him find both lovers and friends he treats with persistent caution. T

he book is meandering and aimless; its plot only dictated by the course of Jacob's own (true to life) quietude and occasional sociability. His experience is filled with the uncertainty of charting a course outside of a culturally inherent narrative and is free from the stability into which so many people who never "leave" find themselves safely welcomed. The author creates a soft, isolating read whose ephemeral qualities echo slowly throughout the pages of the book.

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller
Finally, The Last Days of California is also something of an outlier in the New Adult field. The main character, Jess, is only 15, which isolates it from the other titles above. However, despite the focus on a younger than average narrator, the material therein is very mature and the muddy, confusing world of the story distills itself in the mind of the narrator without metaphors or any mention of what one would think of as typical high school age problems.

Jess's emotional maturity matches that of someone much older (though not unrealistically) and the book follows her as she deals with insecurity, family issues, and her father's fatalistic belief in the impending and inescapable end of the world. The book's plot moves along quickly and is a reminder of how fast events in a person's life can move. The anxiety that courses throughout and the focus on relationships as one grows up definitely puts a mark for this book in the New Adult column.