Can you ever be too old for Young Adult books? Despite what some people think, the many (many) adult readers of YA would answer with a resounding “no.” Case in point: this list of books like Harry Potter for adult readers, not to mention all the incredible novels on this list of the best YA books in 2020.
In fact, a found that 55% of all YA books were purchased by adults. That said, even the most ardent lovers of the genre can occasionally get tired of all the, well, high school drama. And that’s where New Adult (NA) literature comes in. A relatively recent category—it was coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009—New Adult is YA graduated from high school. The protagonists, in the 18 to late 20s range, deal with issues related to college, first jobs, and changing relationships with family and friends. Another demarcation: more sex and cursing!
The transition between youth and true adulthood—“not a girl, not yet a woman,” as Britney Spears so aptly put it—is prime for exploration. Until recently, there’s been a dearth of novels about the college experiences (at least believable ones, ). As NA author , “Young Adult books are about surviving adolescence and coming of age. New Adult is about how to live your life after that. New Adult is the ‘I’m officially an adult, now what?’ phase.”
New Adult books have all the sub-genres of YA—there’s romance (a lot of romance), sci-fi, fantasy, realism, historical—and it’s a genre that’s only going to keep growing as the traditional YA audience ages up and the adult YA audience continues to read voraciously. Here are 12 New Adult novels to add to your reading list, with no need for those pesky age brackets.
If you're into romance:
Just One Trilogy
A delightful trilogy from the author of the weepy New York Times bestseller , these three books follow a couple who, in the tradition of , meet on a train in Europe, spend a magical day (and night) together, then part. Just One Day is from the girl’s perspective—she wakes up and he’s gone. She goes home, gets a job, goes to college, but can’t stop thinking about him—and how he ditched her. Just One Year tells his side of the story—where he went, his search for her around the world, and all of their close calls and missed connections. The e-book novella follow up, Just One Night, ties up all of the loose ends and will make you swoon.
Twenty-two year old Bliss Edwards is a college senior and a virgin, a fact she is determined to change before she graduates. She goes out with her friend on the hunt for a one-night stand, and ends up with a very hot, naked, British man in her bed—who just so happens to be her new professor. This is where NA becomes a handy distinction—it’s not adult literature, but it’s definitely not YA either—parents would be yanking this steamy romance out of the hands of their teens (and reading it themselves).
If you're into dramas:
At twenty-five years old, twins Ben and Reese Hamilton slink back home to Nebraska to care for their father as he wastes away from cancer. Not long after they arrive, their mother Bernice shows up on their doorstep—thirteen years after she abandoned them without so much as a goodbye. In the wake of tragedy, resentment, lost love, and anger, the Hamiltons spend the course of the next few months relearning how to be a family. Along the way, Reese has to make some tough decisions about what it means to be an adult in general.
All the Good Things
At twenty-one years old, Beth has found herself going down a path bad enough to land her in prison. But Beth is more than just the bad—she has a baby to show for that—and at the insistence of her counselor, she takes a trip through her past to write out a list of all the good things she’s had in her life. Her past is full of hard times—being abandoned by her mother, bounced around different foster homes, trudging through thankless jobs, and being pushed around by boyfriends. But as she looks back, she sees that not only does every life have its beautiful moments of joy, but the chance for redemption, as well.
If you're into a blend of realism and fantasy:
If you haven’t read any of Rainbow Rowell’s books yet, get thee to a bookstore, ASAP. Fangirl is about Cath, a college freshman who is still obsessed with the Harry Potter-esque fantasy series Simon Snow. As she moves out of her childhood home and heads off to college with her twin sister Wren, who wants to get the typical college experience (i.e. drinking and partying), Cath sits in her dorm room, writing fan-fiction, and slowly falling for her roommate’s (maybe) boyfriend. If you enjoy the fan-fic portions of the book, check out Rowell’s latest novel, , the meta final installment of the fictional Simon Snow series.
Related: 8 Must-Read Adult Fantasy Books for Fans of Artemis Fowl
Lily and the Octopus
One of the most moving new adult books to date, Lily and the Octopus follows Ted, a gay writer who seems incapable of opening his life up to anyone besides his beloved dachshund, Lily. When the poor elderly pup is diagnosed with a brain tumor, Ted is determined to save her at any cost. Spinning a tale of magical realism, this striking novel explores grief and longing, grasping the beautiful nature of love and the wonderful healing power of laughter.
If you're into reality TV:
Fans of MTV’s reality series (or its ilk) will definitely like these books, but there’s also a reason it’s a New York Times-bestselling series. Shockingly, they’re actually good. Lauren Conrad has a fantastic ghostwriter (apologies, co-writer), who keeps the plot moving. LC herself presumably provided the juicy details and behind-the-scenes drama you didn’t see on TV—you’ll find yourself wondering how much is real TMZ-worthy scoop. Though the average 18-year-old isn’t starring on a reality show, the characters deal with every-girl problems, including workplace challenges, changing friendships, and relationship woes. Also recommended: the follow up series, , from the mean girl’s perspective.
If you're into historical fiction:
Code Name: Verity
With plot twists and surprises galore, this World War II-era adventure story is a fascinating read, both for the historical details and emotional plot. Queenie is a Scottish spy in her early 20s who arrives in occupied France and almost immediately gets captured by the Nazis for looking the wrong way before crossing the street (a detail based in history). Her best friend Maddie is the pilot who flew her in and crash-landed, getting stuck in France—a very bad place for a Jewish girl in 1943—and aiding the French Resistance. Each fears the other dead. With masterful storytelling and attention to detail, this book is an A+ crossover read for YA and NA readers alike.
If you're into vampires:
This follow up series to the more classically YA Vampire Academy series follows 19-year-old Sydney Sage as she deals with a career that she’s not sure she wants, family values she doesn’t agree with, and boy trouble. Sounds like your typical NA novel—except the career is as an Alchemist, an inherited position that involves cleaning up after rampaging blood-thirsty vampires. And the boy is a super hot “good” vampire, not that that distinction matters to her family—if they knew about her forbidden relationship, she’d get sent to a “re-education” center (i.e. brainwashing camp). All in all, this is one of the new adults books that is more grown up than —and better written, too.
Sunshine is set in an alternate universe where a terrible conflict—the Voodoo Wars—pits humans against an array of supernatural creatures called “Others,” and pockets of thriving black magic are occurring more and more frequently. When human baker Rae “Sunshine” Seddon decides she needs some quiet time away for herself, she sneaks away to her family’s lakeside cabin. She shouldn’t be surprised that she never heard the vampires coming. Kidnapped by a vampiric gang with a nefarious plan, Rae might find that some of the Others are full of surprises—and she’s got a few of them, too.
If you're into thrillers:
The Good Girl
If you’re in the mood for some thriller New Adult novels, then there’s no better place to start than The Good Girl. When Mia Dennett is stood up by her on-again, off-again boyfriend, she ends up following a mysterious stranger home. But after the seemingly innocuous Colin Thatcher locks her away in an isolated Minnesota cabin, she starts to regret some of her choices. Mia’s mother, Eve, and the determined Detective Gabe Hoffman set out to find Mia at any cost—but what complicated, emotional snares threaten to shatter their lives?
Keep You Close
The official story is that Marianne Glass fell off of the roof to her death—but Rowan Winter knows better. She may not know anything about Marianne’s adult life, but she knows that her old best friend had crippling vertigo that would have kept her far from the building’s edge. Determined to find the truth, Rowan dives into the present that Marianne left behind: three very different men in states of mourning. And as she delves deeper into the sinister mystery, she traces it back to Marianne’s past: a family that Rowan loved being a part of.
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Featured image from cover of "Just One Day" by Gayle Forman