Young Adult, the College Years
In the book world, the college age is seen as an in-between state. It’s assumed that since college kids are not teenagers anymore, they can’t read Young Adult, where the characters are typically high school aged. Yet, college kids don’t want to read about a forty-something protagonist with three kids and a steady job from the Adult genre.
The common misconception is that only teenagers are supposed to read young adult. That’s far from true. In fact, adults in their thirties still read YA. Why? Because the books are entertaining and they are filled with fresh and innovative ideas. Young adult is lively. Just look at the mainstream market now—the Divergent series, the Hunger Games series, and The Fault in Our Stars—all young adult. With that being said, there is still something missing from the grand scheme of the genre.
I’m in college now and when I’m not reading for my multiple English classes, I’m reading for pleasure. I like to read YA, but sometimes I feel like I can’t relate to most stories. I feel disconnected from the main characters because many of them are struggling with high school and growing up while I’ve already dealt with that and have moved on to the big bad world of being an adult, but still a child. What I want—what I need—are characters dealing with the same things I am, things that people in college are dealing with. It’s a whole new, scary world and I’d like to think that I could find comfort in my books.
Over the past few years, young adult authors have been pushing the concept of a New Adult genre. New Adult was supposed to focus on the in-between, featuring college and just out of college characters. Unfortunately, the idea failed because it wasn’t given the attention it needed. But, even if the new genre didn’t work, the idea shouldn’t be forgotten. I think that there is a need for more diverse ages within novels.
The list of current college-age YA novels is short, and the list of notable ones is shorter. Gayle Forman’s Where She Went (sequel to If I Stay, so I won’t say what it’s about) is significant as well as Kristan Hoffman’s Twenty-Somewhere, which deals with college graduation and life after that. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl tells of the character Cather and her first year of college. Each of these novels feature real, relatable problems that are relevant because they note the struggles within particular ages that most works gloss over.
The high success of Fangirl since its release gives me hope that the trend of older characters within YA will develop. I think that the key to getting the college-age novels that we need is attention, and lots of it, from both writers and readers. The market relies upon writers to provide the stories of in-between characters and it relies upon readers to consume. Only then will the college-age genre have the opportunity to continue the connection to readers that YA has so admirably set up.