Young Adult, Adult, and … New Adult?
As students and writers both, we’ve always been told to be mindful of our audience, to think about who we’re writing for when we choose the contents and words that make it onto the page as a part of our stories. “You should know who you’re writing for,” we’re often told, “before you start writing.” I would argue that this shouldn’t be taken as the blanket statement it appears to be.
There are some stories, I think, that need to be paired with a certain audience. Quite honestly, I think Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is one of those stories, just for the sake of giving us an example to work with here. This book toed the line into some very adult themes, particularly when the issue of Alina’s enslavement came up (and that’s vague enough it doesn’t count as a spoiler, right?). I remember that when I read this book, I felt like something was missing, and after an awful lot of ruminating on it, I came to the conclusion that it just couldn’t go that extra step to round out the story because it was restricted by its targeted audience. It seems to me that Bardugo decided she was writing a Young Adult novel series and wrote to it—she did a good job with that, but I think the story wanted a little more depth than she could go with that target audience.
Choosing an age group for your target audience has to be about more than just the question of whether or not you’re going to have explicit content. It has to be about more than just the kind of language you’re going to use (by which I mean both kinds of swear words as well as just straight up vocabulary and complexity of the writing style). A good author should consider the direction that the story they want to tell is going to go before they start writing to a certain audience—and sometimes that’s not something we have as much control over as we might like to think. It’s also a perfect example of why having at least a general outline of your story is so important.
There’s a part of me that makes me wonder if this isn’t at least part of why the “New Adult” genre was formed. This is an age group that I don’t really understand, to be honest. According to Wikipedia, it’s for people ages 18-25, and it’s for fiction that is “similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult.” I honestly don’t understand what is actually meant by this, and I find the whole concept a bit baffling. But I wonder if it is for exactly this kind of thing, where the story is a bit too much to be contained to YA, but the style of the writing and the maturity of the characters is more appropriate for YA. It certainly grants some of the in-between that I could see being more comfortable for some writers. As a 23 year-old reader, however, I’m almost a little insulted that now that I’m an “adult” they still have a specific age group for me, but maybe I’m just misunderstanding, or too sensitive.