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Beyond Young Adult Literature

There has been a lot of buzz in the world of young adult literature about a possible new category: new adult fiction. This is designed to “bridge a gap” between young adult fiction and adult fiction and is often characterized as featuring college-aged protagonists. Some say it’s a niche thing that will never really gain enough traction to make it a big deal. Some call it a marketing ploy. Others, especially readers on the Internet and those who note the percentage of adults who read young adult fiction, think it’s a category with a lot of potential.

adult cereals by flickr user yadniloc
adult cereals by flickr user yadniloc

Whether or not new adult literature becomes a widely accepted category (the way young adult fiction has) is not the point of this post, however. Instead, I want to share books written for the adult market by popular young adult authors and books that are shelved in the adult literature section but that are about teenage protagonists and would appeal to fans of YA.

Adult Fiction by Popular YA Authors

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume (2000 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)
summer sistersJudy Blume is often thought of as quintessentially YA and a pioneer of the category who penned classics like Forever and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, but she’s truly a writer for all ages. Though< Summer Sisters is technically an adult novel, the childhood antics of best friends Caitlin and Vix, who spend summers together at Martha’s Vineyard, are as honest as Judy Blume’s novels for teens. Though the novel is mainly Caitlin’s recollections of the summers of her youth on the eve of Vix’s wedding, it still has the urgency so often found in YA.

The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares
the last summer (of you and me)Ann Brashares is best known for her popular Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but her fans may also enjoy her adult novel, The Last Summer (of You and Me). This moving story of sisters, secrets, and first love set on Fire Island will resonate with readers looking for more mature themes and writing without sacrificing the coming-of-age themes that draw readers to YA.

Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund
secret society girlDiana Peterfreund’s Secret Society novels have little in common with her young adult fantasy novels about killer unicorns (Ascendant and Rampant) or her post-apocalpytic Austen retelling (For Darkness Shows the Stars), but teen readers can still enjoy her adult series. Secret Society Girl follows one of the first female inductees into an Ivy League secret society. The romance, intrigue, and female empowerment motifs will appeal to fans of young adult literature eager to read stories in a university setting.

Collateral by Ellen Hopkins
collateralFans of Ellen Hopkins’s gritty, realistic YA novels in verse will enjoy her new adult novel that follows the story of a woman in love with a solider told in the poetic style for which she is known. This is also a possible read-alike for many new young adult novels chronicling the effects of war on the loved ones of veterans such as Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie or Something Like Normal by Trish Doller and others listed in this post.

In addition to these YA authors who have written adult novels with teen appeal, I’d like to recommend several authors who write about teens, but within the category of adult fiction. Though these titles often take on a more nostalgic tone or present more complicated themes, many will appeal to fans of young adult fiction or those looking for fiction about teens.

Adult Titles with Teen Appeal

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
prepThis novel is often mentioned on lists of adult books about teens, and for good reason. The novel is perfect for readers looking for an authentic teen voice. Though Lee — a Midwestern girl who is determined to go to an East Coast prep school — is not the most endearing narrator, she is certainly compelling. Frequently compared to Holden Caulfield, Lee’s awkward and self-consciousness narration brings the disaffected boarding school protagonist to a new generation and gender.

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty
the center of everythingAll of Laura Moriarty’s novels will find fans among teen readers, including her newest historical fiction The Chaperone, the story of actress Louisa Brooks the summer she moved to New York and became a silent film star, and While I’m Falling, a novel about the effects of changing family dynamics on a college student who is still trying to grow up. The Rest of Her Life chronicles a mother-daughter relationship after high school student Kara makes a mistake that has devastating consequences for another young woman. Perhaps her best, and most relevant to fans of YA, is The Center of Everything, Moriarty’s debut novel. This story follows a young Evelyn, daughter of a single mother growing up in a small Kansas town, from the pre-adolescent years through high school. This heart-wrenching tale about first love, responsibility, the dynamic between several generations of family, and the struggle for identity has all the heart of traditional coming-of-age young adult novels.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2007 Best Books for Young Adults)
winter's boneI had the pleasure of seeing Daniel Woodrell speak recently, and one of the most interesting facts he shared about Winter’s Bone, a gritty tale of a young woman in search of her father who has jumped bail and left his family in danger of losing their home in the rural Ozarks, was that it was a big hit with teenage girls when it was first released. Fans of survival stories and classic quests, some of the most popular themes in young adult literature, will enjoy Winter’s Bone (also worth mentioning is that Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in The Hunger Games, also stars as Ree Dolly in the film adaptation of Winter’s Bone — and Ree is just as strong a female protagonist).

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell (2011 Alex Award Winner)
the reapers are the angelsRealistic fiction is the only genre where readers will find excellent adult books with teenage protagonists. Those who have made it through the plethora of zombie fiction in the young adult section should venture over to adult fiction, where they can discover titles like The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell. This novel blends post-apocalyptic horror with a literary Western for a wholly unique and satisfying zombie reading experience.

These are just a few of the YA authors whose adult novels will appeal to fans of YA and adult novels featuring teen protagonists that readers who love a good coming-of-age stage can enjoy. Categories are useful guides, but should be informative tools rather than restrictive fences. As YALSA states: “The term ‘young adult literature’ is inherently amorphous, for its constituent terms ‘young adult’ and ‘literature’ are dynamic, changing as culture and society — which provide their context — change.”

Theme, style, voice, and subject matter are what draw readers to certain books. Of course it’s important to have quality literature designed specifically for teenagers, but just as adults can and do enjoy YA, its fans should feel free to peruse the adult shelves, too. Categories, whether young, new, or plain old adult, shouldn’t be off limits to any readers. Just as those looking for a well-balanced breakfast know: whether you’re a kid at heart and love your Froot Loops or, like me, never liked anything that didn’t say “bran” on the box, cereal is cereal — just like a good story is a good story.

YALSA honors adult literature with teen appeal in the Alex Awards. Readers looking to branch out of young adult fiction should peruse the lists of each year’s winners.

Which of your favorite YA authors write adult fiction, too? What adult titles that feature teenagers as protagonists would you recommend?

— Molly Wetta, currently reading Just One Day by Gayle Forman and The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

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Molly is the Senior Librarian for Youth Services, Programming, and Marketing at Santa Barbara (CA) Public Library. She is a former member manager of YALSA's The Hub.

2 Comments

  1. Diane Colson Diane Colson

    Jonathan Mayberry, author of the wildly popular Benny Imura (Rot & Ruin) series has written many adult books. Dead of Night: A Zombie Novel was published in 2011, and the fourth book in the Joe Ledger series, The Assassin’s Code, was published earlier this year. These books feature super-hero caliber main characters with troubled pasts, tough guys and girls that most people don’t get. The violence and sex are ratcheted up in the adult novels, but the nonstop action and life-on-the-edge suspense is recognizable to his fans of any age.

  2. Rebecca Donovan and her “Breathing” series. The first two books of the trilogy (‘Reason to Breathe’ and ‘Barely Breathing’) were e-published by Donovan and her third book is set to come out in June 2013 (‘Out of Breath’). The series reads liks candy and is compelling for many reasons, but above all else is the impact of the main character, Emma, and her struggle with an abusive home life. Page after page, you read on as she tries to hide this horrible secret from everyone. Abuse is a sensitive topic -especially child abuse -and though most people prefer not to talk about it, Rebecca Donovan brings it out into the light. She shows it can happen at any house and in any town. Her trilogy raises awareness and is an important read for adults and teens alike… She exemplifies the types of books that fit perfectly into this New Adult category.

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