This is a topic that I have talked about before on Twitter but never on this blog. Recently it has been getting a lot of attention, at least it has on my timeline.
The main issue or topic of discussion that has been popping up on my timeline is the lack of published novels where the main character is in college or is college-aged. The majority of young adult novels are set in high school, usually junior or senior year. College is always a major topic of discussion in the novels, since characters are trying to figure out where they want to attend and what they want to do with the rest of their life. It is sort of insinuated that once they figure this out, they are set up for life. All the characters have their coming-of-age in high school and we are just left to assume that their lives work out perfectly because by the time they graduate they have it all figured out. While this might be true for some people, it most definitely is not true for everyone.
You might be asking yourself what the big deal is about college and young adult. After all, isn’t New Adult supposed to be for college age students? Yes and no. Depending on who you talk to, the age ranges for young adult and new adult vary. According to Wikipedia, there are some sources that claim young adult fiction is for age ranges 12 to 18. However, many authors and teen readers believe that it ranges from ages 15 to early 20s. Therefore, protagonists who are in college would appear to be apart of new adult fiction, which is meant to feature protagonists between the ages of 18 and 30. The line between the two is often blurred and very unclear.
It’s true that young adult books are mainly meant for teens, although not only teens read them. The books should not be geared towards adults that are reading them and judging the portrayal of teens and their experiences–that’s not what wanting college young adult is all about. Going into high school, I had an idea of what to expect. I had read a ton of books with high school age characters, and although my experience didn’t exactly follow the plot lines of those books, I was happy that my peers and I were being represented. I’m a freshman in college now. Going into it, I was definitely nervous and unsure about what to expect, so naturally I went straight to books to try to help me figure things out. And let me tell you, it was incredibly hard to find any books that featured college-aged protagonists. It was even harder to find ones that didn’t have a plot line based almost entirely around sex. I believe I only read two books that featured college protagonists. One was Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’ and the other was Danika Stone’s ‘All the Feels’.
As I stated before, new adult fiction tends to feature a lot of sex. While I go into most young adult books expecting there to be a sex scene at some point, the levels of detail and description in the writing are often very different between young adult and adult. The issue is not that new adult steers more towards adult writing when it comes to sex scenes. The issue is that a lot of times, the main component of the book and the character’s plot line rely on sex. While I can’t speak for all readers, I can obviously speak for myself from experience and from what I have talked about with my fellow readers. We want to be represented. Coming-of-age doesn’t always happen during high school. A lot of the time, it doesn’t. By placing all coming-of-age stories in high school, it sends the message to readers that something is wrong with them if they don’t have everything figured out by their junior or senior year.
College is definitely different than high school. Kayla, a fellow blogger and friend of mine, brought up a great point as we were discussing this topic about how friendships and relationships are more complex once you hit college. Let it never be said that I don’t love a swoon-worthy romance story, but life isn’t all about romance. It’s about friendship and it’s about finding your own path through the world. Books have long been a great teaching tool and have helped readers of all ages by connecting to them and expanding their worlds. College kids need these books. They need them to help figure out if they even actually want to go to college and everything that goes along with making that choice. While I would love to read books set in college because it’s where I’m at now, I also am fully aware that not everyone goes to college and those kids need to see themselves represented too. Twitter user Megan Manzano created an awesome thread expanding on this idea. I’ve also seen tweets by authors who said that they were told by publishers and agents that their book wouldn’t be published or represented unless the protagonist was in high school. Becky Albertalli, author of ‘Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda’ and many other YA books, talked with Lianne Oelke about her debut, ‘Nice Try, Jane Sinner’ in a post that was published on happyeverafter.usatoday.com. Becky was delighted and surprised that NTJS was a YA book set in college, stating that “I think one of the ways NTJS goes against the grain of YA publishing is that it takes place at a college. There are so few YA books in college, because publishing (as an industry) is very resistant to college stories being considered YA. But readers are begging for them.”
One of the reasons that publishers are reluctant to publish books that are set in college is because they don’t have a lot of previous books and sales to go off of to get an idea of how well a book is going to sell. But if no-one ever publishes college books this cycle will just repeat itself over and over again.
I will be making a post soon that features a detailed list of college-age books. Comment below any books that I should add for the full list and your own thoughts about college young adult books!