When I was in university, I read a lot — and I'm not just referring to the thick textbooks that were required. No, if I was on campus during a break between classes, you were almost guaranteed to find me hanging out in the children's/YA section of the university bookstore. And I wasn't just there for a quick browse. I'd be in there for hours, sitting in a chair if I could get one — and on the floor if I couldn't — and delving into some YA books.
And if the bookstore wasn't open? Well then, I headed over to the Educational Library, where the lower level was full of kids' and YA books. Probably intended for those teachers-to-be to use for their classes, but I'd walk through the stacks, pulling out a pile of books, reading them for a while, and then when I had to leave, checking them out at the desk so I could finish them in my room at residence.
So when I read Jessica Lawlor's recent – and excellent – post on Where Are All The Books For Twenty-Somethings?, and saw a comment suggesting that the reason there are so few books for this age bracket is because publishers think college students don't read, it got me thinking. Yes, there is more academic pressure in college. And yes, when they're not studying a lot of college students are out partying, not raiding the YA section of the bookstore. But not all of them, and not all the time. My reading habits didn't really change that much from high school to university. The selection at the campus libraries and bookstore was different, but I made do with what they had (and when I felt like making the 20-min bus ride in, then I went to Chapters.) But I was still reading YA.
The biggest change was, I didn't want to read about high school anymore. That period of my life was over, and frankly I wasn't keen on reminiscing about it. I was enjoying university life far more than high school, and I wanted to read books about people and events I could relate to. Classes with oh-so-frustrating profs, university club activities, dorm life, getting your first job...not the same-old, same-old stories about high school cliques and prom night. But where were these books? Check the YA section: nope. Check the adult section: nada. They were nowhere to be found.
|The selection looks something like this. Only in actual bookstores there IS no "New Adult" section.|
Admittedly, there have been a few popping up in the YA section recently — ones like Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson, An Off Year by Claire Zulkey, and Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott. I'd like to see ones for all different experiences for this age group, be it college, a trade school, a first job, a gap year around Europe, getting married, etc. Generally, I'd just like to see MORE of them. And if they were easier to find, that would be appreciated as well. Right now it feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. What do you search under? "College-aged protagonists"? "Older YA"? Or the term St. Martin's Press coined, "new adults"?
Publishers, I'm not sure what you expect readers who have grown up on YA to do when they reach this age. Do you think these people will just stop reading? Or will miraculously hurdle over this massive gap into adult fiction about 30-year-olds? Or will be perfectly content to keep on heading down memory lane to high school? Whatever the rationale, I don't think it's working — at least judging by how often this category popped up on the Top Ten Tuesday lists last week, as something the blogger wanted to see more.
So, please...the next time you receive a manuscript for a YA book with a 19- or 20- or 21-year-old protagonist, don't tell the author to drop the age and put the character in high school. Don't write off college-aged people as being unlikely to pick up a book. Instead, just give us a book we'll want to pick up.
A 23-Year-Old Who Still Loves to Read for Fun