For those of you on twitter, or deeply invested in the booklr, booktube or bookstagram community, you may have recently come across the disaster that was #SoapGate. It was a hashtag which exploded recently after a book-box subscription included some pretty risky merchandise in their A Court of Thorns and Roses inspired haul. Namely two very highly detailed penis shaped soaps which definitely made this box NSFW. I’m not going to even talk about the completely illegal published fanfiction also included in the box, which breached copy-right on so many levels, because honestly…I don’t have the time or energy to deal with that intense level of nonsense.
Instead, I want to take a different approach to the discussions that surrounded the whole #SoapGate fiasco. It seemed to me that many people were deeply offended by the soap which, whilst hilariously inappropriate, was ultimately harmless and precisely the kind of merchandise you’d expect in an ‘Illyrian boy-friend’ box. Why not enjoy some penis-shaped soap? You stick it to the wall, lather it up and have a giggle…just as long as you don’t try anything else with it, what’s the harm? The box was rated 18+, so no one should have been surprised.
But people were. Why? Not because of the illegal publications, not because of the (some would argue) questionable quality of the writing, but because A Court of Thorns and Roses is a Young Adult book, and including dicks just wasn’t on.
And this really bothered me, because A Court of Thorns and Roses isn’t a Young Adult book. It’s New Adult. So why is no one calling it that?
Unless you’re into a niche in the American market, or you’ve kept your finger on the pulse-line of the book word, the term ‘New Adult’ probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you. And why should it, when the book world routinely ignores New Adult as an age-group and genre? You go into a book-shop, and you’ll see the Children’s section, the YA shelf, and then adult…and no in-between.
Unfortunately, a between does exist, both in the demographic of readers, and in the books which are being produced.
So what is New Adult? Well to answer that, we have to look at what Young Adult is. Young Adult is a category of children’s books aimed for 14-18 year olds. A good, and easy example of YA is probably Twilight. In YA the main characters are usually between 17 and 18, and there tends to be a romantic plot-line somewhere in the story. The books are more likely to dwell on feelings and thoughts than Middle Grade books, and there is usually a sexual/romantic awakening in some form or another. YA books, especially YA fantasy, have a particular sort of feel to them—they will often be criticised by ‘critical’ readers because of their subject-matter, and are written off as shallow or dull, because anything that’s written for or enjoyed by teenage girls can never be considered valid.
YA also, however, has a knack of addressing subjects in new and innovative ways, through setting, character and story. We get LGBTQ+, Disabled, POC characters in YA books like Six of Crows or The Mortal Instruments. Other YA books comment on capitalism, racism and corruption, such as The Hunger Games and Noughts and Crosses.
These books tackle interesting topics, whilst being relatable to their readers by examining the difficult ins-and-outs of being an adolescent. It’s only natural their ‘film-franchise’ popular.
The problem, however, is the assumption that past 18, we all magically become adults, and 18 to 50 year olds are all the same…
Between the ages of 19 and 25, our personalities are still versatile and developing. From finishing school, most people this age are moving into University, which far from ‘adult life’ is just another phase of learning, adapting, and character building. The human brain is still developing during this time, and it’s only after the age of 25 that our identities and personalities really start to solidify—(and for some, it’s even later!).
So why is this generation of people, the last of the millennials and the eldest of the Gen Z, being completely ignored? We’re not Young Adults any more—that 17 year old girl who’s never kissed a boy isn’t relatable to us, on average. We are a generation who have possibly, if not probably, lost our virginity. We are a generation that has kissed, and flirted. We are a generation who can legally drink, and drive (not at the same time!), and don’t have a curfew. We are a generation who are panicking as we learn to manage our own finances, live alone, get into long-term, serious relationships…
And we are a generation that grew up with the first few cycles of YA books. There is a big, and marketable difference between Game of Thrones and Cinder, Saturday and The Fault in Our Stars. From my own experience, having dabbled in adult-fiction from a young age, even I still got whiplash when I tried to jump from one tier to the other all at once. To me, adult fiction felt too distant, too dense, too impersonal for me to fully enjoy, while with each passing year, YA became increasingly and frustratingly un-relatable. I felt like I was being tossed between two campsites, without ever being comfortable in either, and the Lord knows I wasn’t the only one.
And thus, like Excalibur rising from the lake, New Adult fiction rose from the murky depths of the publishing world. At first glance, it was essentially YA with sex—explicit and detailed, not the virginal, censored touches that made us blush and hide behind our books when we were teenagers. It existed almost primarily within the Romance genre, concerning itself with characters in their early twenties, getting up to some hot mischief—not yet mature, but not children either.
And then, slowly, those nineteen and twenty-year old characters began to leach into other genres as well. And suddenly, A Court of Thorns and Roses was on our shelf, staring a young sexually active woman, with a sexually-active mind, all packaged up in that glorious, readable way that made YA Fantasy so easy and enjoyable to read.
I should add, very quickly, that New Adult isn’t all about sex. Sure, portraying sexual relationships is a key part of it…But there are other avenues that are opened up by NA that YA can only brush on. Abuse, trauma, rape, abandonment, monetary issues—the list goes on, and while YA has been tackling this nest of nightmares for years, it could only ever be as mature as the youngest reader could cope with…And it was also governed by what was deemed appropriate for that age. I mean, when was the last time you read a gay sex scene in a YA book?
And yet, despite the fact that New Adult fiction is being produced, and it is being marketed to us, and it is being read, the prevailing belief that New Adult fiction doesn’t exist continues to burn a hole through my waning patience.
I walked into my local Waterstones recently and saw A Court of Frost and Starlight on the YA shelf. I crossed over, grabbed a copy, picked a sex scene and began to read it aloud. Within two lines, my friend nearby was squirming. Sure, Sarah J Maas doesn’t use the words cunt, fuck and cock, but, my god, all three are present in vivid enough detail that, had I been an old guy in a trench-coat, I’d have probably been arrested. If it’s not something you’d want read-aloud in the children’s section, you probably shouldn’t have it in the children’s section.
And so, back to the #SoapGate disaster then. Ignoring copyright scandals, you all need to stop worrying about phallic toiletries—they’re not the real problem here. The real problem is that a book written for 19+, is being shelved in the same place as books for 13+ because the industry is too afraid of dealing with a new market, when the YA one is already established. Why take risks, when you can make money?
But whether they’re ready to acknowledge it or not, New Adult is in demand, it’s being written, and with the success of each new book, it’s only going to grow. And with growth come cash.
So get used to the term, because New Adult is here to stay.
And so is the dick-soap. (Or not.)