A lot of us think of New Adult as a fairly new phenomenon in the literary/book world. Since the term was coined, the category has literally exploded with several genres blossoming underneath it. While college romances do seem to the big draw right now, they are not the only novels that show the struggle of young adults becoming new adults in a modern and different world, albeit college or simply an entirely different way of life.
I was listening to a podcast the other day about building flora and fauna into science fiction. This is something I regularly do, listen to helpful podcasts on writing, especially in science fiction which requires a lot of world-building. One of my favorite books, Dune (Frank Herbert, published 1965), was mentioned as an example of an ecology of a planet having a very deep and significant impact on the people that inhabit it. While the planet itself is filled with mystery that we, as the readers, get to unfold and enjoy as the story progresses, the story of Paul Atreides, the hero and main protagonist is the major character arc of the novel.
Paul is a new adult, recently taken from his lifetime home on Caladan, he is moved with his family to the strange and beautiful world of Arrakis. Due to a family feud (think Capulets and Montagues), Paul loses his father, Duke Atreides, and suddenly becomes Duke himself, thrown into a war in which he must grow up very quickly and assume his rightful place on the throne. There are, obviously, a lot of other parts at play in this story including a test of his leadership and manhood, a romance, and eventually a battle in which Paul must usurp the evil above him on the chain of command. It’s a story of loss of innocence and the struggle of taking on adult responsibilities.
Though Paul is actually around 15 years old when Dune takes place, his story is synonymous with the New Adult definition we here at NA Alley strive to disseminate, “Typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence (a life stage often depicted in Young Adult fiction) and true adulthood.” Classic science-fiction has been writing about this transition for quite some time, well before New Adult became a category these past five to ten years.
Themes from New Adult books can be found in many classic science fiction novels. In Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlein, published in 1961), Smith, raised entirely by Martians, is introduced in Earth society in early adulthood. He comes into a contentious relationship with terrestrial culture and grows as he influences the people around him. His journey from childhood innocence on Mars to adulthood on Earth is part of the new adult journey. In Against the Fall of Night (Arthur C. Clarke, published 1953), seventeen-year-old Alvin shrugs off his home, the decayed city of Diaspar, believed to be the last city on Earth, and uncovers secrets the older generations of his city have long forgotten. His adventure to a far away land and the decisions he must make to unite old cultures bring him into true adulthood.
Some could argue that these themes apply to the Young Adult category, and yes, they sometimes do. The examples I give above are young adults who are now in the position of full adults and therefore must make decisions like adults. They may have counsel and help along the way, but parents play little to no role in their situations. They are independent and making decisions as new adults in their worlds.
As you can see, the themes of New Adult literature have played a role in classic science fiction for some time. Can you think of any other examples of classic science fiction that are actually New Adult books?