All the Young “Adults” Are Illustrated

For me, the highest praise for any notion is when it forces you to come back, analyze it, break it apart, and put it all back together again and again.

The question and my previous blog “Where Are All the Young ‘Adults?’” is this kind of idea.

I thought I would be completely off about my assessment concerning the lack of 18 and over characters in YA. For the following reasons:

  • This is why adult fiction exists.
  • I haven’t research this topic enough.
  • Should YA even be about characters in college/out of high school?
  • Who even cares?

But, in my heart of hearts, I knew these concerns were not enough of an discouragement. This idea needed to leave my mind and find a new home.

Also, I had a deadline to meet.

Two days after the blog went live, I received my first response, from Maya, and it mentioned a book I had not listed – “Better Than Running At Night” by Hillary Frank – but had seen before during my library shelving days. My heart sank, because this meant I was wrong. Utterly. Terribly. Wrong. What other books had I missed?

Four days after that, another comment appeared below the blog. It was simply a link to a blog post. I clicked. I read. I wrote back. And the blogger, Jenny Arch, was kind enough to list a few books fulfilling the criteria I had mentioned:

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe

Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger

Except none of these books, excluding one, actually did. Even though each does have characters who are over 18 and/or are attending college, they are marketed as adult. Only David Levithan’s novel was originally published as a YA novel and can be found on YA bookshelves. The others may cross the “genre” demarcation, but they were not intended for a YA audience. (Sidebar: Exceptions to this viewpoint do exist. Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” was originally published as adult in Australia but was marketed as YA in the states. But for the intentions of my feeble argument, let us move onward.)

Also, some of these novels have elements of nostalgia, which alter the viewpoints and writing styles. They are not actively in the present, but actively in the past.

This list, however, made me realize that even if I am horridly wrong, at least I had started an discussion. Writing these blog posts for the past year has been very surreal. My thoughts tend to either linger in my head or in my journals, but they rarely reach others unless I vocalize them. I was grateful that I was not alone.

And then this blog post, from Kristan Hoffman, was bought to my attention.

“New Adult?”

This was a new term for me. Basically, it is literature directed towards young “adults” who are in an period of  transition – from living at home to living alone; from being a full-time student to being a full-time employee; from entering high school to entering college. This is a splendid idea for an new category in literature, but many argue that it will take another decade or so before these books gain traction in the mainstream literary world. And by that time I will be 33-years-old!

Also, the concept of “New Adult” irks me. There is already a market for YA books featuring 18 and over characters – They are currently freshmen and sophomores in high school. These readers are growing up in a world where YA is an established genre; where people outside of YA circles know who John Green, Scott Westerfeld, Sonya Sones, are; where YA tops NYT Bestseller Lists week after week and these same books are being turned into full length feature films. When I was 15, there was no such thing. The teen book club I attended only had three members – including myself. The same group, today, has more than a dozen.

There is a potential audience, within YA, for stories with college age characters. But for those who have not grown up with “The Hunger Games” (me) “New Adult” may fit the bill.

In the meantime, there must be a temporary remedy and I think I found it during Teen Read Week. This year’s theme was Picture It @ Your Library®, which encouraged teens to read graphic novels and other creative illustrated mediums.

And then, it hit me. There are numerous graphic novels that feature characters who are no longer in high school; I had answered this question subconsciously years ago and have just now realized it. (Sidebar: Now graphic novels, depending on their content, seem to be in genre limbo. Some appear in adult, some in YA, some in both. For the purposes of this discussion, if I have seen the book on a YA shelf in various libraries, it’s YA.)

Here are few that come to mind:

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Empire State by Jason Shiga

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, Thien Pham

Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabriel Soria, Warren Pleece

Paul Has a Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati

Scott Pilgrim: Volumes 1-6 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Stitches by David Small

To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka, Steven Weinberg

This is certainly not a definitive list, but it is much longer than the one I made earlier this month. And for now, I am somewhat satisfied – keyword: somewhat.

As Tom Stoppard once wrote, “If an idea’s worth having once, it’s worth having twice.” And in my case, I will be re-hashing this idea for months to come.

Lourdes Keochgerien, YA Consultant & ReaderDFTBA

Do you feel that graphic novels fill the void of 18 and over protagonists missing in YA novels? Are there some that I missed?

Post Scriptum

Thank you to every one who commented on my previous blog. I learned a copious amount, and this is never a bad thing.


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2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Kristan says:

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    I’m with you: there is an audience already. Our generation wants to read these books, and the teens right behind us (the ones who did grow up with YA shelves, thanks to Harry Potter and Twilight) will be even more eager.

    But it’s interesting to know that graphic novels may be tackling some of this problem. I had no idea.

  2. Lourdes says:

    Thank you Kristan for commenting on my other blog and for introducing me to New Adult.

    Graphic novels seem to always be under the radar. I do not know why. They are just as important and vital to YA as the solely textual novels. I did not even notice that there are more older YA characters in graphic novels until I was reading “Empire State” and the main character is 25!

    I am glad you also see the potential market for New Adult now already a given in the YA audience today. I thought that logic was a bit of a stretch but I am happh it makes sense.

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