New Adult literature: Teen reading for grown-ups

Adults might be past the adolescent stage, but that doesn't mean they don't want to read about it.  Credit: Goodshoot
Adults might be past the adolescent stage, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to read about it.
Credit: Goodshoot

Juggling a fleet of firsts is tough — first apartment, first love, first job.

Once adults feel firmly settled, no longer living in a shoebox or struggling to decipher a date’s texts, they might not want to revisit those years.

But when experiencing it through a book’s pages, it can be fascinating.

At least, that’s one explanation for the explosion in adults reading teenager-themed books, or a new category publishers and authors are calling “New Adult.”

The genre is targeted toward college-age people and those in their early 20s, and the characters, while typically a smidge younger, are also featured in that coming-of-age era.

The New Adult category, experts say, was ignited in stages by series like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” which piqued adults’ interest in younger characters.

Another influence? 2011 erotic hit “Fifty Shades of Grey” funneled readers toward more explicit reads, says Bethany Buck, publisher of Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster’s teen imprint, which also formed the New Adult genre.

“It’s a little bit of sweet and a little bit of naughty,” she says.

Buck is editor for authors like Abbi Glines, whose newest book, “Sometimes It Lasts,” about a college-age love triangle, comes out next week. Since they began picking up New Adult authors last fall, readers have flocked to the reads, she says, with each book selling more than the last.

“It’s exploding,” she says.

And more books keep dropping in — “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” featuring a teen equestrienne camp, was a talker this summer, and the latest hot series is “Divergent,” now filming with Shailene Woodley as the headliner.

Bestselling author Kelley Armstrong just penned “Omens,” the first in a series of new adult literature out this month. After writing both young adult and adult fiction, she says she noticed a void.

Her own daughter, about 18 at the time, was growing out of tween books but not yet interested in adult fiction with 30-year-old protagonists.

“I could see the need for books in the middle,” she tells Metro.

The age range is rife with conflict, which makes for a good story, she notes.

“It’s your first time away from home, it’s your first real job, possibly your first really serious relationship,” she says. “They’re getting out there and trying to live an independent life, which leads to a ton of conflict.”

Publishing and marketing expert Penny Sansevieri, who heads Author Marketing Experts, says New Adult literature is largely set off by its steamier scenes.

“They’re really more mature,” she says. “They’re a little sexy. They’re a lot sexy in some cases.”

Plots are a bit more complex, too, she notes, with more nuance in dialogue.

But what’s the psychology behind adults wanting to read about teenagers?

Meredith Bonacci, an adolescent and young adult mental health specialist, says these stories resonate with people just barely – or not yet – removed from that delicate life stage.

“You might identify and validate your own experience by reading about someone who’s gone through something similar,” she says. “How did they cope with it? It kind of helps you understand your own thoughts and feelings about that in your own life.”

Bonacci issued no cautions to adults reading about teens.

“It’s an escape, it’s a distraction,” she says. “If you’re also behaving in that way, that’s a different story. But if you’re reading about it, not so bad.”

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison


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