New Adult, Old Frustrations
Originally posted April 18, 2016.
Until this point, I've considered myself a writer of Young Adult fiction. Until this point, my stories have been about my characters finding themselves, forming friendships, solidifying their relationships, etcetera.
However, as I've been working on my latest project, I realize that this story is a New Adult story.
And I am horrified.
"Wait, why?" you might ask. "Why are you horrified? So far, it's a great genre, really incredible for older characters and older audiences! And not to mention, the sexiness. *swoon*"
Look, I recognize the merits of New Adult fiction. As a writer, I'd be stupid not to. Yes. New Adult fiction can be considered revolutionary. Yes, it's branching out to an in-between audience, more mature than YA, but not quite in that "adult" bracket yet... or, more accurately, don't want to consider themselves in the "adult" bracket.
"So, what's your problem then?" you ask, a little more than slightly disgusted. "Are you just writing to hate on something that's awesome?"
I have not seen much new adult fiction in my life. Or at least, none I would consider picking up. Some of the more interesting stories are lumped under "Mature YA" or the general "Sci-Fi/Fantasy" tags. But I find that the New Adult section is mostly... scratch that, all romance-revolving.
Not that I didn't enjoy books like A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas! I did! Very much! But that was because I knew what I was getting into. I knew I was getting into a tumult of romance with plot intertwining. Not all authors can do that well. SJMaas can. Kudos.
But by the end of the book, I knew that one of my favorite authors was going down a path I've seen a thousand times before in YA novels. A dark and brooding love interest is introduced. The hero and heroine have as happy of an ending as they can. And by book two, all that happiness will turn to hate somehow. (NOTE: At the time I wrote this, A Court of Mist and Fury had not yet been released. My sentiments on the series have changed in the romance respect. The overwhelming sexual content still makes me slightly uncomfortable, but that's not why I read the ACOTAR series. Nor Throne of Glass, for that matter. I read for the characters.)
The only difference is that a) there's more sex involved, and b) the protagonist is 19, which is generally considered to be above the Y-Age. So it's really more of a mature YA, and it's marketed in YA. It's a YA/NA Fantasy, which makes it very difficult to categorize. And this is where I encounter my problem with the New Adult genre.
I first dipped my toe into New Adult with Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover. Book blogger friends had raved about it, and I wanted to branch out. To say I didn't enjoy it would be a lie. I did. But, as I said in my review, the protagonist "may be the protagonist, but she's kind of bland and a bit boring, and only exists for the 'romance'. She has no social life, and I barely remember what she looks like." I stand by that. Because that book is all about sex, with conflicting messages, and a tragic backstory that is never really explained. Half the problems in this book could have been solved with open communication. It's about the love interest coming to terms with his past. But the story was just. sex. that's. it.
From what I can tell, it's the same way with the other books that are labeled New Adult.
Now, for someone who isn't interested in reading about sex every other page, books like these can be a bit... tiresome? That's not the right word, although it is correct.
Annoying? Yes, but still not quite there.
Uncomfortable? That's right, but still no cigar.
Boring? Ding a ding ding.
There's only so many times I can stand to read about "Girl meets boy, girl falls head-over-heels-in-love with boy, they have beautiful sex, conflicts here and there, but the sex is more important, and they live happily ever after until another boy shows up." God knows if I can't stand to read about them any more, I cannot stand to write about them either. I've always wanted to write something different, something new.
Look, I get it. Sex sells. It's something the majority of people are interested in and desire (except if you're like me, and you're a member of that 1% asexual population). And as long as romance and sex make a shit ton of money, they're going to keep selling.
But books like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard give me hope, because this series throws me for a loop every time I pick it up. There's not much of a love triangle, because the romance is not at the forefront. And nor should it be! Mare Barrow has her priorities in order, and I root for her over no matter how stupid a decision she makes. Because her priorities are in the right place, and I actively want to see her succeed. (Note: To add to that list, anything that Leigh Bardugo has written, especially Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Also Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles.)
Unlike, say, Juliette Ferrars from Shatter Me. I don't remember much about that series, and thank deities, because I don't want to remember it. The fan service, the excusing the villain's past because he is a tortured soul and was abused by his father? That, and completely steamrolling the original love interest in favor of the mysterious bad boy. I would have liked that character, if he wasn't redeemed and if his behavior wasn't excused. But I knew it was coming. I hated it. I HATED it. I was so invested in that book when it first came out, and I stuck with the series with high hopes. Too high. I had too much faith in it. I can't tell you about the dystopian society because I barely remember it at all. The romance was in the forefront, and there was not enough solid world building. And it's the same love triangle story that you see in a thousand places. I'm goddamned sick of it.
"But that's Young Adult!" you cry. "New Adult is different!" Hey, hey, I know. I haven't read enough New Adult fiction to judge. I really hope it's not all just 'sexed-up YA.' But, from what I can tell, it's how New Adult is being marketed.
That's why I don't want my latest project, my latest baby, to get lumped into that category and written off as "Chick Lit." Yeah, my protagonist is female, which will turn a lot of guys off. Yeah, there's more open discussions about sex and sexuality. But my protagonist's voice is compelling, she "doesn't give a shit" (a direct quote from my professor), and her first response to conflict is to lead with her daggers. This is a fantasy story, and I refuse to pitch Charmante to the wrong category. Because god, it does not belong there.
So, for you tl;dr folks out there:
1. Charmante will not be marketed as New Adult.
2. I am sick of all the same old love stories in YA and NA.
3. I want it to change, so I'm trying to set about changing it.
4. It's going to be hard to change it, because sex sells. But damn, I'm going to try.
Is it so wrong to not want as much heavy handed romance? I have no problem with love and cuteness, but it should come second to whatever pressing matter is the most important for these characters. Are they fighting a war? The war should come first. Is there a revolution? Revolt! Don't have sex because you're so overcome by lust. Damn. I just want these characters to have their priorities in order.
Give me a nice kickass adventure combo, with witty banter and some snuggles on the side. Please.