Why We Need More College Young Adult Books

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’.

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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!

56 thoughts on “Why We Need More College Young Adult Books

  1. I completely agree with all of this! Having read ‘Fangirl’ in high school — amazing book, one of my absolute favorites — it was nice to get what I now consider to be a somewhat realistic look into college life. Most of the books I’ve seen online (mainly on Wattpad) all depict college as being nonstop parties with characters completing zero homework and hardly even going to class. Obviously, that is not realistic to most students’ experiences, so it’s nice to have at least one book that portrays college life as it really is.

    It’s (not) surprising to me that publishers reject books that are set with college-aged characters, because then they can’t market them to high schoolers (or maybe they don’t think that they can). That seems pretty ridiculous to me, and I’m actually working on writing a book with characters in college so hopefully things will change in that area by the time I’m finished!

    It’s very disheartening to hear that publishers are so closed minded to the idea of a college-based book, though. It’s no secret that college students exist! Representation at all ages and in all mediums is extremely important. It’s not fair to ask all college students to read books with protagonists much younger than them, and the next step up is adult books whose plot lines seem to focus more on physical relationships than actual story plot…or character development…or anything beneficial to young adults at all.

    YA seems like it should include college aged books, since young adults are the college demographic (18+). I think that high schoolers’ stories seem like they should fit into their own category. At the very least, readers should have access to stories that relate to their own lives, and by intentionally blocking that, it’s very unfair.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone getting ready to foray into college next year, I can totally relate! I definitely find myself wishing there were some YA books for the college age. One good one I’ve read lately is AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao. The main character is 17, and a freshman in college.

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  3. Some YA books set in college that I can think of are American Panda by Gloria Chao and I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski (it’s set between freshman and sophomore year). Also Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando is set the summer before, if that counts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. PREACH!! I’ve never see many college students being represented in YA. I am a junior in high school while also taking college classes and I’ve actually shied away from NA books despite the college rep because of the sex and whatnot.

    I believe that having more stories with teens in college would be awesome and maybe college wouldn’t seem so terrifying then.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you! I would love stories of young women and men beginning their new path. The stories of first time away from home/parents, finding a new circle of friends, maintaining/losing/missing high school friends, college life, sorority sisters, changing majors, etc… There’s more to college than finding a boyfriend/girlfriend and sexsexsexsexsexsex. 😳

      I would be okay with college-aged students being labeled as NA books. Ya know, if they didn’t rely so heavily on sex and romantic relationships. I rarely read NA due to that common theme. If I wanted those kinds of stories, I would pick up more Harlequin books. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. SO TRUE!! You described it perfectly!!! I mean, my college experience has been amazing so far, despite the stressful classes. I’ve made new friends, tried new things like joining the creative writing club and the school newspaper, and I just feel more mature taking care of things on my own. I totally want books that portray that struggle of being college student and the learning experience ♥

        Haha, right! If I wanted romance, I would’ve read more romance. Maybe that’s why I’m turned off by NA books. Because they mainly feature sexsexsexsex when all I want is to see a person growing into an adult.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh My Gosh, THANK YOU for this. I am 20, and asexual, so I want to see books with MCs my age that don’t feature sex and/or relationships and are about the struggles of the late teens/early twenties. There are so many books that could be published for our age group. Studying abroad, going off to college, dealing with independence for the first time, going to Community College (like Nice Try Jane the Sinner)’ taking a gap year, being an au pair or a teacher in a foreign country. I’m not an author by any means, but if I had the skills, I would love to write a book for this age group. So many experiences are not being explored, and so many teens have no idea what to expect during college or after High School!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. To be honest, I never noticed until you bought it up that YA books are predominantly set in high school. That said, I’m very choosy about the YA I read too, so maybe that’s why I never realized it’s so widespread. Lovely post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post! As a YA author whose forthcoming debut was originally going to be set in college, I found that it’s much easier to sell YA set in high school – there are even several craft books that state YA *HAS* to be set during HS and that once a character hits college it can no longer be shelved as YA. Obviously not true!! I’m hoping the recent attention on this topic will help shift that perspective.

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  8. I have always found it annoying when I’ve read YA books set in high school because a lot of people-like me-who read them are not in high school anymore. I completely agree with you that there needs to be more for college students, maybe if I’d read a book set in college it would’ve helped me when I started and quit!
    But also I disagree. For me coming of age is not just leaving school and going to college. What about when you start work? And leave home? For me it was leaving school with no idea what to do and struggling to find any job. Maybe there are different stages or maybe we are all different. I’d love to see more coming of age books for 18+ or even more 20+ that are not love stories.
    Maybe we should just write our own?
    But then I guess publishers are there to make money and they may miss a niche in the market or it may not make enough money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree that there should definitely be more books for that age range that don’t feature characters in college. I just focused on that in this post, but it’s also true that not everyone goes to college, so those people need to feel represented in books too!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I understand exactly what you mean. I love reading books with MC’s in high school but college is so different from school.

    I live in India, which makes my experience of both school and college VERY different from the US population. (Unfortunately, I am not well aware of how the college experience for students from other countries is like)

    But as an Indian, with the education system I belong to, it’s all so different from whatever little I have read. However, I do believe a lot of issues and experiences remain the same for everyone. Roommates, sex, relationships, career etc. It is difficult to navigate through all this and I would love to read and relate to characters who go through the same things.

    I read Fangirl, but did not like it. Which leaves me with me with only one more book set in college that I know of.

    And that’s so sad.

    I wish the publishing industry would listen to us already. And give us 20 year old college students characters to love and relate too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I completely agree with so much of this discussion. As you said, I went into high school knowing waht to expect because of books. But I didn’t have that for university – and back when I was nearing the end of my high school career (10 years ago), there were almost no books for college aged. And while it’s great that NA is there, I’ve never read one that is anything like my university experience. On the other hand, I don’t think my experiences would fit with a YA book – it was less about finding myself (a common theme in YA) and more about trying to make things happen. So I don’t know where it would go.

    I guess it comes down to the fact that we need to start writing these books ourselves. Write the book you want to read and all that sort of thing. Or, maybe if we keep talking about it, authors will start getting on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have ‘A Little Something Different’ but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet! Swoon Reads is usually really good about college YA (and it’s all reader chosen so….😋) ‘All the Feels’ By Danika Stone that I mention in this post is also a Swoon Reads title!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The college setting was one of my favorite parts of Fangirl. It was definitely a refreshing change from high school, and I identified with it a lot more than a typical YA, because I had several college experiences similar to Cath’s. But on the other hand, if YA made a huge switch in that direction books like Fangirl stand to become white noise. *shrug*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true. I think there needs to be a good balance between the two. The genre shouldn’t suddenly switch to only college instead of high school, but I think that it should expand to include a bunch of books that take place in both settings.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. NA does seem to get a bit lost, and I believe that more college aged protagonists would not only allow college aged kids to relate to them, but also to prepare high school age readers. As you said, YA prepares us for high school and I only wish, as I look at college coming up soon, that I could be reading YA that features more college kids! I’m saving Fangirl for a bit to prepare myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I definitely agree with you there! I personally don’t read NA books because I feel like they rely too heavily on sex. I’m not here for the sexy scenes in books. I really like stories that engage the reader especially as a college student myself, I would like to see more YA based college characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love this post so much. I agree about wanting to read more YA college books. All the books that are YA contemporary (my favorite genre) that I’ve read I have loved and want to really read more of them in the future (The Big F is definitely on my TBR list). I really hope that there are more books out there in the future that have college setting & are also YA.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Good luck with your blog assignment! And The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin is another Swoon Reads & college-aged book that I totally enjoyed (along with Fangirl and NTJS 😉 also, American Panda by Gloria Chao is about a freshman at MIT!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The thing to remember about NA is that it was created within the romance genre and is a sub genre of it. That’s why there is more descriptive sex and most of those books focus on relationships. I know I have read some that cross lines between YA and NA. One I think you might like to try would be Last Semester by Corine Mekaouche. It is not heavy on romance and about college. Or Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata.

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  17. I honestly feel like this is a product of the “boundaries” between YA and Adult fiction. I have been reading some books lately that are not strictly YA, but feature teenage/young 20-something protags and I have loved them.

    And what makes a YA novel a YA novel anyways? Is it because of how it deals with certain issues, or the issues it tackles? I don’t buy that it is the age of the main character, because there are a lot of books with child/teen protagonists that aren’t middle grade or young adult.

    New Adult had the potential to be a great new classification that bridged the gap between the way YA novels look at the world and the way adult ones tend to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really love me some smutty romance, but I feel like NA just missed the mark by settling there.

    I can’t wait to see your list. Thanks for the great post! ♥

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I completely agree! I’m a huge fan of YA and it basically all I read. I have noticed most main characters are in high school, but thinking about it most of my favorites (Fangirl included) have them in college. I find it much more interesting reading about college aged people, I can relate to them a bit more. Personally I’ll read the book either way, but I do prefer college aged main characters. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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