I caught a lot of flack about my post-RT rant regarding the Young Adult bandwagon back in 2011. And now I see the same thing happening all over again with "New Adult". I have the same reaction to "genre" trends that I do to overly-hyped books. I stay the heck away from them.
I think what upsets me about both Young Adult and New Adult is that it speaks to our laziness as readers. These trends, which so narrowly focus on specific ages, seem to be less about helping readers find books they can relate to and more about manipulating them into shelling out more cash. And it also speaks to our increasing reliance on publishers and the book industry to tell us what to read.
New Adult is a repackaging of Bildungsroman from what I can tell. Self-discovery is a huge part of that genre, as is the age bracket. The only difference seems to be the high percentage of female protagonists, the extremely rigid age range and the emphasis on contemporary settings. So why the big push for it and why the buzz about the label? It's all about the money. Publishers have figured out from their experience with YA that if they rebrand a genre and pretend it's new, the target audience will shell out $$$ for it. And who can blame them?
This is the 'help yourself' generation of readers, after all. Instead of asking for suggestions from booksellers or librarians, seeking out recommendations from friends, or simply browsing the stacks, we're able to walk right to an "age appropriate" section where the protagonist will be a certain age dealing with age-specific issues. I find this thoroughly disheartening. It may very well help in the short term. But it also turns readers into sheep, and artificially narrows their choices. Maybe a book in the adult fiction section that could have profoundly changed a reader's life is overlooked because it's not filed with "New Adult." Sure, readers can walk over to the adult fiction section. But with marketing, bookseller staff, and online book tags telling them New Adult houses the books for them, will they make the effort?
I also tend to get annoyed with the tendency in these trends to pretend they're new. When they so very clearly AREN'T new.
These books have always existed. This isn't a new genre. We're not breaking any ground here. Truly.
But...there's sex in these books! Yep. And there was sex in The King Must Die by Mary Renault as well. We may have ramped up the explicitness of scenes, but the content has always been there.
But...there's violence! Again, those books have been around, too. You probably read them in high school. Bigger Thomas was twenty.
But...it has "gritty" issues like drug use! Please see Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson.
It's a wonderful thing to find something in a book that you can relate to. That helps you feel less alone. And having easy access to an entire "genre" that claims to do that may seem like a good thing. But what seems to happen with every one of these rebranding trends is that we get a lot of conformity. A lot of the same story told over and over. The same socio-economic settings and characters. And because the genre has boxed itself so formally into an age range, it necessarily excludes those who are told by the marketing department that these books aren't for them.
I get depressed just thinking about it.