We need more “normalcy” in new adult fiction, and we need it now
Updated: Oct 4
I was always amazed by how our society defined what is and is not normal, and how books in general, and new adult books in particular, embody this definition.
I am not arguing the heteronormative representation of relationships, neither am I addressing the lack of minorities representation, because we all know the state of literature. What I want to discuss in this article pertains to new adult book’s representation of a “normal” human, or a “normal” social dynamic, which I find, to say the least, lacking.
New adult defines a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18–30 age bracket. I, myself, fall into the category of people these books are marketed to, so I know how hard and vulnerable that age is. And surely, other readers know as well.
I am not attacking any writers.
As an aspiring writer myself, I understand the appeal of competent, balanced, mentally healthy characters with clear goals and “clean” morals. I also understand the appeal to write morally corrupt characters and dark messed-up dynamics.
What I don’t understand, as a reader and a writer, is the lack of representation of the messy middle — the reality of new adult characters who struggle with their lives and identities.
Some people, the luckiest of us, cruise through their teenage years with ease. These rare caterpillars, born wise and confident, soon mutate into social butterflies and positive humans.
For the rest of us, our high school and college years are harder and more formative. We navigate life with equal confusion and hope. Failure is not a mere acquaintance, and hardship is a constant partner. (I tried getting rid of it, your honor, I swear!).
But you know what? That’s okay!
Our twenties are the years we become aware of ourselves and test our personalities against those of the people we meet and love. They are the years we discover our vulnerabilities and start doubting ourselves. We become aware of the state of the world and how it impacts us. And we become aware of the social constructs that help us thrive or bring us down.
Which brings me back to my topic: how lacking heavily marketed new adult fiction is when it comes to the representation of a certain type of characters or relationships.
So if you are in the new adult age bracket and cannot find yourself in the characters you read, know that you are normal. People do not always have a specific talent or a clear vision of what they want in life. People do not get magically brilliant at every task they try, and not everyone finds their soulmates before they are twenty-five.
Taking time to find your way in life is okay. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, and breakups are not a failure. Life is messy and hard, and as long as you are trying your best, you are doing great.
If you are a new adult writer, you are of course free to write whatever you like. But if you happen to favour contemporary literature, please consider addressing the notion of “normalcy” in your art.
Do not shy away from vulnerable characters and sad endings. Raw emotions can be a great addition to your novel and a realistic, sad ending once in a while never hurt anyone.
“The more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more literary you are” — Ray Bradbury.
If you want some books that show the rawness and vulnerability of new adults, I would highly recommend “We were villains” by M.L. RIO and “Normal People” by Sally ROONEY.