Speaking of New Adult Fiction…

We have been posting about a new categorization called New Adult which is more mature than young adult – yet somehow not ready for prime time readers. Genre classifications annoy me anyway so introducing another one makes me sigh – the long drawn out kind of sigh.

Perhaps my problem is not so much with genre classification as it is with readers. Particularly readers who refuse to read a particular genre or will only read a certain genre. I understand that genre labels are meant to guide readers to their preferred fiction. I don’t deny that it is helpful to go to a book store (back when I was still doing that) and just seek out the Sci Fi or the Mystery section because that was what I wanted. I will even admit that I always avoided Romance as a genre because I made (somewhat unfair) assumptions about it.

Recently, I read a recommendation for an author, Megan Abbot, touting her as the best new crime fiction writer out there. Crime Fiction – didn’t that used to be mystery? Either way, I like mystery, thriller, crime and started tracking down more information. I found on Amazon, she was categorized as a Young Adult author. I purchased two books for my Kindle, the first one because it is her latest and the other one because it was only a couple of bucks: DARE ME. Dareme

I am venturing a guess that this is what publishers have in mind for the New Fiction category. My own take on this book was that it is a good read, Abbot is a good to great writer, and every one should read this book, including the teens that are considered “too young” for it.

DARE ME in a nutshell is a first person narrative from a high school junior cheerleader as if written by Ruth Rendell. If I had to give it a genre, Psychological Thriller would be the tag. Or maybe a better description would be – if James Ellroy wrote about teen girl cheer leaders this is what would come out.

The girls in this story are complicated while presenting themselves to their peers and the world in general as archetypical cheer leaders. Pony-tail perfect, hard bodies, and single minded. They are pretty much detested by everyone outside their circle, they know it and they thrive from it. Sex, drinking, prescription drugs are readily available and consumed. No one worries about pregnancy, disease, or being exploited. To these girls, all of the sex and drugs is just background noise, something to get them through the daily grind.

The actual story centers around the narrator and her relationship with her best friend, disrupted by the appearance of a new coach who changes everything. Abbot did a fabulous job of writing about the power maneuvers between the best friend and the coach as they lock horns on the edge of a precipice.

If it isn’t obvious, I enjoyed the book very much although it wasn’t perfect – for me there was a degree of repetition that drove me crazy. But teen age girls do that at times. I was curious about the genre rating and went to Goodreads to see readers comments there.

One of the first reviews I read was from a commenter who liked the book but felt it was miscategorized as young adult. Other commenters agreed with her giving the reason that the book has very “adult” themes. So I wonder now – would a genre category like New Adult solve this perceived problem?

I admit I come to it from a perspective of “I’d have been thrilled to see my kid reading anything, just to see him reading.” But I try to think about how I would have responded to reading this book at the age of sixteen. I know that I would not have “gotten” a lot of it, maybe even been bored by the parts that weren’t about sex – which isn’t really that much nor particularly graphic. I would have hated reading about what these girls do to their bodies to attain physical goal – I would not have been able to identify with that. It makes for fascinating reading as an adult though because Abbot writes with detail that makes you believe (see Tyler Tork’s previous post about gaining reader’s trust. Abbot did her homework and her prose rings with authenticity.)

So where should this book go on the bookstore shelf – or web page category-wise?? If it was me, it would be on everybody’s reading list as fascinating insight to an iconic teen girl mindset. Sadly, many people would lose interest right there because few of us place much value on that insight. Parents should read this book without assuming the author is making a statement about all teen girls or even all cheer leaders.

I hate to see anyone miss a good book because it is placed on the wrong shelf. Worse, I hate seeing readers pass shelves by assuming they wouldn’t like it. More genres and sub-genres result in narrower reading habits – although some might see that as a good thing. After all, who am I to tell them what they *should* read? But I say in the end, they are the ones missing some fantastic fiction.