Discussion: YA vs. NA vs. Contemporary

YA vs. NA vs. Contemporary 

I have had a problem distinguishing new adult and contemporary reads. Ever since these two terms were introduced a few years ago, I didn’t delve too far into them or put much stock in the terms or new niche genres. Mostly because I didn’t understand them and how they were different. There’s been some contention about YA vs. NA that I’ve come across, too.

I’ve read some articles arguing that YA is not a genre, it is a category filled with a range of genres (romance, paranormal, fantasy, thriller, etc.). I don’t think I agree with that statement. YA is most definitely a defined genre that has seen exponential growth in the last decade, most notably with authors like Stephanie Meyer and Rick Riordan at the forefront.

There has been controversy over YA in recent years, with a negative perception of adults who read YA. There has been great backlash from adult YA readers, and I am in total agreement. You can read whatever you want to read. As an educator, I still use children’s picture books to teach middle schoolers. And they love it! Your age does not define what you are allowed or not allowed to read.

As a genre, YA is published for readers in their youth to bridge the gap between children’s literature or middle grades literature and adult literature. It is typically written for ages 12-18 and it may contain adult themes and topics. Often I have discovered there is a societal issue at stake in YA books.

NA and contemporary seem too similar to me to differentiate. What is the difference? NA is loosely defined as having protagonists aged 18-30. Researching more details, I found this great passage about NA:

Suddenly thrust into a wealth of new responsibilities and their own legal agency, it’s no wonder that new adults face struggles that both their underage peers and older adults with well-established careers, families, and lifestyles don’t.

Everything that takes place in the life of a new adult is, indeed, new; it can be difficult for them to find their footing in many aspects of their new adult life, which is exactly what NA books address…or rather, what you’d think NA books would address.

Unfortunately, when NA books emerged roughly ten years ago, they did so almost exclusively with plots that can rather unanimously be summed up as “Young Adult fiction with explicit sex.”

In other words, NA mainly consisted of erotica set most often within universities where Greek life clichés reigned and no one actually matured into adulthood.

Ultimately, NA is about the perspective of a new adult learning to navigate the world independently, including being responsible for one’s self. Settings like going to college or entering your first career are common for NA books. Other themes include exploring the depths of friendships and relationships, understanding about mental health or abuse, discovering local social issues. It is the adult coming-of-age experience that crosses that threshold from youth to full fledged adult.

What about contemporary? 

Contemporary is a sub-genre of romance novels, set during the time they are written. Thus, they reflect the aspects of the time. So I’ve been using this term incorrectly for a couple years. I consider anything set in current times to be contemporary. Don’t you?

Then I’ve read that contemporary is realistic fiction depicting our world and society, growing up and confronting personal and social problems. Ultimately, a novel of understanding yourself and others.

So…is it strictly following the romance genre or not? The questions then arise, what do you all outdated contemporary books? Classic contemporary? Realistic fiction? As one individual put it, “Although classic seems to infer that the books are well-known and well loved, which may not necessarily be the case for just “old” books. ”

I’m still left wondering what exactly distinguishes contemporary.

Do you believe YA is a genre or a category? What do you consider contemporary? What should outdated contemporary be called?


7 thoughts on “Discussion: YA vs. NA vs. Contemporary

  1. For me YA, is a category that ACTS like a genre. It works like an category, encompassing more defined genres such as romance, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. But then it shifts to be quite genre-like in that it has its own set of typically expected tropes (despite what actual genre it falls int), voice and style. I wish this was how NA was treated, but it seems it still has a long way to go.

    And I’m blown away by that definition of contemporary. I don’t like it. I won’t use it. As you said, contemporary is any book is anything set in “current”/realistic times. Doesn’t matter if it was published in 1998 or 2018.

  2. I’ve always thought of contemporary as something set in modern times, or “now” more or less. I didn’t know it was associated with romance. But yeah what would you call a contemp set in the 70’s? I mean society WAS different. I’m not really sure, but for me contemp just means modern times, more or less?

  3. This is why universally-agreed on definitions are important! I think of YA as a large genre with a lot of sub-genres – YA fantasy, YA romance, etc. That definition of NA seems spot on to me! I wish there was a wider range of it, but it does seem to mostly be YA-with-sex, or at least the ones that I’ve heard about are. And I admit that I do tend to think of Contemporary as romance, but that might just be because of what I see on the blogosphere and how bloggers and reviewers on my radar define book genres. It’s definitely interesting to think about.

  4. I typically call YA a genre, but I actually agree that it’s more of a category that can be split into multiple genres. When I list the genres for the books I review, I always pair YA with something else: YA Contemporary, YA Fantasy, YA Science Fiction, etc. YA by itself doesn’t really define the genre. Contemporary, I believe, is really any book that takes place in our current time period that doesn’t involve elements of other genres (like paranormal or thriller or mystery or something). I often see Contemporary Romance listed as a genre, but Contemporary books don’t have to be romance—especially in YA. And I agree with that passage that you found about NA!

  5. For me, YA would be from 11 – 16, I will often say in a review that a book in this might be suitable for mature YA readers or younger ones, because readers in this age group mature at different rates. NA , for me, being from 16-to early 20s (end of university or college years) I found NA mainly features romance and ups the sexual content.
    It also depends where you are in the world, I’m from the Uk and middle grade is a genre from don’t use much.
    But I think , like Nicole above, that there are now so many sub-genres in almost all genres that cross-overs occur.
    For me, contemporary means current or within the last 5-10 years, but this goal post moves and a book that was contemporary 20+ years ago will start to edge into Histfic. But contemporary also crosses sub-genres, it can be about many topics.

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