It’s the advice that every young writer hears at some stage: write the book you want to read but can’t find on the shelves. In some ways I’ve followed that advice with every book I’ve written, but back when I was writing my first book, before I knew much about the industry, that was especially so. I thought I was writing a Young Adult novel, but the protagonist was 18, had moved out of home, and was starting her first post-school job. I soon learned that the novel didn’t count as Young Adult… but wasn’t quite Adult either. It was in the no-man’s land that exists between the two, which is apt, because it was about a character finding herself in a kind of no-man’s land.
To quote the ever-wise Odd Thomas: “I am twenty years old. To a world-wise adult, I am little more than a child. To any child, however, I’m old enough to be distrusted, to be excluded forever from the magical community of the short and beardless.”
When I was at university I spent a lot of time studying Post-Colonialism, about people torn between holding onto their own culture and assimilating with the imposed culture of the colonists. The subject fascinated me. I found a way to sneak it into every subject I studied: politics, media, anthropology. One of the best essays I ever wrote was on Post-Colonialism in Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve always been interested in the spaces between. Between nationalities, between cultures, between the world of the child and the world of the adult. Young Adult literature explores this well, but it has its limitations. When you’re seventeen, you’re still very much a child. You live in your parent’s house. You may be starting to make some decisions for yourself, but you are far from independent. There are so many firsts that don’t happen until you leave school and decide what you’re going to make of yourself outside of those structures.
I’m not going to talk about what New Adult is now, or its financial viability. Those things have been explored well elsewhere. I want to talk about what I hope New Adult becomes.
I want to read books about being alone for the first time. I want to read books about realising for the first time the gap that exists between your dreams and reality, between who you are and who you want to be. I want to read books that explore that period where you are no longer part of “that magical community of the short and beardless”, but you haven’t yet fully assimilated in the dominant adult culture. There’s freedom involved in this stage, yes, but there’s also the sudden, uncomfortable encroach of responsibility. There’s so much tension inherent in growing up and so many stories waiting to be told.
I want to read about these things occurring within the structure of a horror novel, of a mystery novel, of a literary novel, of a magical realism novel. I want the amazing genre diversity currently represented in the Young Adult world to expand into the world of New Adult.
I want to read about people who are changing, who are becoming, not yet there, but almost. I want to read books about people between.
Publishing is changing. The world is changing. My hope is that these changes mean more voices can be heard, more experiences can be represented in the books we read, and in the books we write. Because, as this age group is discovering, change may be difficult, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
These are my hopes for New Adult.