Sadly, I think the discussion on New Adult has been laid to rest. What it has decided it is is contemporary urban romance. It is not YA but with characters navigating college and first relationships and finding jobs in a bad economy, as originally proposed. There is a little of college happening in YA now, and that’s great, but I just don’t think New Adult is going to be anything but what it is now, and that’s that, I guess. I’m a little sad, but whatever. If YA and adult fiction both start to recognize that growing up and navigating first experiences happens well beyond prom, we’ll be fine.
Anyway, I’m actually really liking a new thing that authors are doing. That is, acknowledging their original legions of fans from the late 90s and early 00s, fans of YA and adultish series like the Jessica Darling books (IndieBound), The Princess Diaries (IB), Sweet Valley High (IB) (okay, that one is way earlier than the others), The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (IB). Quick backtrack: The fans of these books who are around my age are the main reason New Adult became a conversation at all – because we are technically too old for YA, but we are also too educated and too social justice-aware to give a shit about White Guys Writing Serious Literary Fiction, and we are too stuck in this damn recession to be fully fledged grownups in any financial or career sense (thanks, unpaid internships), and we were raised by a generation of parents who instilled a You Are Special value that is ruining our ability to be humble. So yeah, we Millennials may have “invented” New Adult out of our inability to grow up, but the forces that keep us from joining the club called “adulthood” was not made wholly by us, so shut up – we are staying diehard fans of whatever makes us wax nostalgic, and authors are responding with things like Jessica Darling’s It List (IB), Sisterhood Everlasting (IB), Sweet Valley Confidential (IB), The Summer Before (IB), Royal Wedding (IB), and From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess (IB). (Jessica Darling, Traveling Pants, Baby-sitters Club, and Princess Diaries, respectively) Post-series followups with characters and prequels with teen characters as tweens are total candy for the True Fangirl, not real books that stand alone, and that’s awesome.
It’s not actually the best idea to continue a series backwards, as with Jessica Darling and one of the two expansions of The Princess Diaries. I know Kane Miller has not had the best luck with Anna Hibiscus (IB) picturebooks, because while the early readers are fantastic books, people don’t want to go “down” a level. And I know from trying to sell the Jessica Darling prequel to my middle school students that while they may like the book just fine, they aren’t as taken with the character or the jokes that I am, because I think these books rely a bit more on knowing the original series than intended if you’re going to find them hilarious instead of just fun. Or sometimes they’re just totally incomprehensible. The Veronica Mars movie is brilliant, but it can’t stand alone in the slightest. All it is is 90 minutes of inside jokes. Genius and pitch perfect, but not a traditional filmic story that stands on its own.
These spinoff series and delayed endings are the same thing. They are gifts for the loyal reader, acknowledging both our growing tastes and maturity (in the case of adult closing titles) and give us the chance to hopefully introduce our favorites to our younger siblings or mentees (in the case that the prequel is successful). What is better than catching up with an old friend and seeing what she’s been up to? Rereading books can be amazing, but sometimes you want something new that is still pretty much guaranteed to be satisfying and worth your emotional investment, and these books largely deliver on that front. Even when they’re not all that well written, I am always willing to give them a try.
It’s weird, because doing similar things with movies always ends badly (Cruel Intentions sequels, anyone? How about Mean Girls? Legally Blonde? Bring It On? All horrendous), but I really think that these updates, by not purporting to be anything except fun things to continue the fandom, are excellent. For me, at least. I think any time and energy spent trying to market them to the age group the originals were written for (as in, selling the Baby-sitters Club prequel to a girl who is currently 11 years old, rather than to a girl who is closer to 31) is wasted, but selling them to adults is rather genius, kind of like those dumb “classics” board books for babies, which are not at all relevant or interesting or good counting books at all, but they are cute if you’re into Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or whatever.
So if this is what publishing is doing for us “New Adults,” I’ll take it. It’s hella fun. But umm, please some good literary things that aren’t about middle aged white guys with daddy issues who cheat on their wives and wax poetic about auburn hair for eighty pages in a single paragraph. That would be another nice thing to give my generation as a gift.