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A Reader of Fictions: Reflections on Turning 26, or, What It's ACTUALLY Like Being a New Adult

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reflections on Turning 26, or, What It's ACTUALLY Like Being a New Adult

On today, the day of my birth, I thought I would commemorate this momentous occasion, with a reflection on the years that came before. As I leave my early 20s and embark on the upper ones, officially (?) leaving new adulthood behind, I want to talk a bit about that experience and how it compares to fiction. This post will be a good deal more personal than my usual ones. Also, I do ask that any family members who might be reading this post (Mom, Dad, Grandma, I'm looking at you), please stop reading now or have the grace never to discuss these things with me unless I choose to bring them up.

In the past, I've complained pretty vociferously about the paltry smattering of offerings in New Adult fiction, and about how I still can't get behind it as a concept. Partly, I just hate the name and don't think a new genre classification is requisite. However, I also feel like New Adult, in theory, could fill a gap in fictional offerings, should it ever actually choose to be about the process of transitioning from dependence to independence, rather than solely about sexy sex times.

My new adult experience is perhaps somewhat atypical, but, still, I think is one that many people will go through, and one I've not seen reflected frequently in fiction. About the only books that have really reminded me of the feelings of that transition are Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and Gayle Forman's Just One Day. All the others, whether I liked them or not, were solely about sexy romance.

College, or, The First Step
Due not to skipping a grade but to the technicalities of cut offs for when students can begin public school, I graduated from high school at 17, and entered college shortly before my 18th birthday. Living out of my parents' roof for the first time, I had begun a new phase of life, one where I could be much more independent. Though still in all ways financially dependent, my parents could no longer control my day to day life. They had no say in who I saw or what I did. I could drink (though I didn't drink any alcohol at college freshman year), stay up late (you bet I did), and have all the sex I wanted (or, you know, not), and they would be none the wiser. Freedom, glorious freedom.

I'm a bit of a strange duck (quack!), prone to daydreaming over action. The assumption one might draw about an innocent, sheltered only child heading off to college, the one predicted to me by an RA who was harmless but a bit of an asshole, is that I would go off the rails, drinking and making lots of unwise sexual decisions. To be honest, I probably would have done a bit more partying that first year had it not been for that pronouncement, which stubbornly made me decide not to drink at all, not that I would have ever been the girl puking in the bushes outside, just to put him in his place, not that he probably remembered the incident at all. In fact, I'm the girl who lives in her head, and thinks about these options being open to me, but hesitates.

College was amazing in most every way. I made wonderful friends, finally finding people who got me and appreciated me for everything that I am (smart, bitchy, sarcastic, prickly, fangirly, nerdy), rather than liking me in SPITE of those things. In college, I learned a lot about who I am as a person and started to slough off the insecurities that had buried me since elementary school. Sure, I learned facts, but I think the most valuable lessons I got in college were about the way that I relate to myself, and realizing that it's alright for me to be who I am and that I do not have to try to reform in someone else's image. What the freedom and the fresh start really did was give me a chance to find myself free from the expectations of anyone who knew me before.

Unlike what I see in most New Adult books I see in college, I didn't find myself through a guy. There was no epic romance in my college years, a fact which seriously stressed me out, since both my parents, my roommate's parents and one set of grandparents had found each other in college, and I SO thought that was in the cards for me. A relationship didn't help rebuild me, or at least not a romantic one. Making true friends who didn't want to put me in a box or demand anything of me except that I be me did help.

Friends helped me see the good within myself that I had been blind to, but that knowledge still had to come from me. To this day, I have trouble taking or believing compliments. When it comes down to it, only MY opinion of myself matters.

Congratulations! You Have Degree(s)!, or, Now What the Hell do I do?
Oh my Zeus, but the end of college is freaking TERRIFYING. I've taken a whole bunch of classes, received a fancy piece of paper, and now have a degree in history (in my case). Well, what the fuck do I now? Seriously, in what way is history a marketable skill? Why did I take these classes? Are there any jobs that won't feel like someone's digging my eyeballs out with a melon baller every day in some sort of Promethean eternal torture?

What I personally did is going for stalling tactics: grad school. I decided my calling was librarianship, largely because of my passion for books and reading, and also because a lot of my soul sisters were going this route too. Sounded better than anything else at any rate. One more year of school and seven more wonderfully dear friends later, and I have another costly piece of paper. Unless you're one of those lucky people with BAMF skillz who gets headhunted right out of college, this is probably how you will feel at the end of it:

Job Hunting, or, How to Lose All of Your Self-Esteem and Drive Your Parents Up the Wall
At this point, my parents have spent an absurd amount of money on my education, and now I can't find a goddamn job. Now, this may not be the case with every profession, but library jobs are thin on the ground, and really difficult to get if you don't have years of experience, which you can't get if no one will hire you because you don't have enough experience. It's a big ha-ha of a catch-22.

I sent out hundreds of applications and lived in my childhood bedroom, days spent on my parents' couch. Not exactly the glamorous adulthood I'd pictured. But, hey, at least I didn't have debts and my parents LET me move back in. Perhaps what sucks about job hunting most, at least in the library world, is that you will NEVER hear back about the status of your application in 99% of cases, and the hiring process generally takes months from the time the application is actually due. Sloths could hire new librarians more quickly.

During this period of boredom and renewed self-loathing, I did finally start up that blog I'd been planning. And, now, it's finally on my blog in a real way. Wooo, full circle. I only wish that I'd known about Twitter and the community earlier (I didn't really find out about it until I'd been blogging for a year and a half), because I was really lonely at this point. Downside of starting fresh at an out of state school is that if you move back to your hometown, you don't have a network of friends.

Eventually, I found a job outside of librarianship, working for a small software company, which at least uses my information organization and writing skills. It's fine, but totally not where I ever expected to end up. That's life. Of course, I also didn't expect to end up back in Atlanta, so close to my parents, so who knows. Prepare for life to throw you curveballs, as much as that is something for which one can prepare.

Adultiness, or, I Guess I'm a Grown Up Now
My last few years of being a new adult were the setting out on my own thing. I moved out of my parents house as quickly as I can, convinced by my father that buying a townhouse was the right move. I'm still on the fence about home ownership, frankly, but I like having my own space. I have insurance on my body and my house, a mortgage, an American Express Card, disposable income, and a cat. When shit goes down, I have to take care of it, and it's pretty terrifying.

What I want to see in so-called New Adult fiction is just that: the confusion and struggle of finding oneself and learning how to deal with responsibilities you're rather underprepared for, and making it out the other side. As a teen, I read tons of books about people in a new adult age range (18-25), and, like now, they were almost all romances. From that, I imagined that by 25, I would have my life fully sorted and perfected, but that's such a laugh.

Today I'm 26, and, honestly, I'm still not entirely sure what I'm doing and I sure as hell do not feel like a "grown up." Though sex and romance are no doubt a huge aspect of most new adults' lives, even if they're not mine, that's still only one experience among a myriad. Real life isn't just about romance, and I want more fiction that reflects these sorts of experiences honestly.

What would you like to see in New Adult books, fellow people who are in that phase of life or past it, that you've not been seeing? For those who are younger, do you think fiction has given you unrealistic expectations?



Blogger Kayla Beck said...

I don't read New Adult because I don't like romance as a major theme in YA novels (usually), and I just see NA as sex in YA novels. I have no idea what it would take to draw me to it. If I want to read books with relationships, I'll read an adult novel. I read YA for the multitude of science fiction and fantasy novels. I would think that NA gives the same expectations as PNR, except without the vampires breaking off a piece while getting their dinner.

And happy birthday!

September 14, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Bibliosaurus Text said...

Happy birthday! I can't say I've read any NA books yet. I'm just not that into reading romance, and that's what those books seem to be focused on, ya know?

I loved reading about your summarized life journey. Finding a library job is awful. I'm holding on to mine with a death grip, but it's a contract position so I have no idea if I'll still be employed in another year. Sounds like your place is more of a sure bet.

Also, happy birthday again! I hope you get cake.

September 14, 2013 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Charlotte @ Gypsy Reviews said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY *THROWS CONFETTI* I hope you're reading all the good books today and eating cake ;D

I'm right in that phase of life right now and I think for me I would like more variety for NA so not just on sex. I don't think it's all about romance and sex for people between those ages, because well it isn't for me and it sure isn't for a lot of people too. For some yes, they will be going through this period of life of exploration but I would generally like more self-discovery and coming to terms about yourself, finding your path and so on. I'm more worried about getting into university right now, my future career and so on.

Fiction has definitely given me unrealistic expectations. I thought I would go to university at 18 (which I then realised was not possible in my country because thanks to the education system here, you couldn't even go to uni until you were 19+). I thought I would get a boyfriend by the time I was 18 (eh, I read a lot of romance when I was a teen). 18 was the 'magical number' of freedom. I thought being a legal adult would be awesome because being a teenager sucks and so unbearable. But finally reaching that age and I remember on my birthday I was just thinking about all these expectations I had when I was a kid and how wrong I was but even though fiction has given me these false expectations, I'm not mad about them.

There's a definite period of growth from being a teenager to becoming an adult and I think back to me as a teenager and even though I made a lot of decisions I wish I had never made. I realised teenagerhood is a period that has to be lived in, it's a process you have to accept and go through because you get all these experiences that will help mould you and grow.

Okay wow I really strayed from talking about New Adult to going to teenagerhood lol. Your use of HIMYM is fabulous, all the Barney gifs yes!

September 14, 2013 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HON!!!! Thanks for sharing your story with us too. I love all the HIMYM gifs in this post. I do think that most NA books focus too much on the romance or sex, but there are a few that are great that don't. Great post and I hope you have a fantastic birthday weekend!! (You are visiting with Kara right?)

September 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Hmm said...

Again, happy happy birthday!

Yes yes yes, to all the things here. At the moment, NA novels are pretty much Harlequin Brazen books set in college. Nothing against that (I have at least one boy-drama a year, which isn't as fun as it sounds), but it's so not representative of the average college experience. These are not the things that worry me about graduating. I won't lose sleep over not having found "the love/lust of my life" yet. I am, however, already freaking out about finding my own place and having to pay bills and such, and I still have two more years to go.

Here's the thing that bothers me: NA now has the name of being the "racy, schmexy category". I've noticed some YA authors venturing into NA territory and that's okay. I worry about the influence it will have on the representation of sex in YA. It has always been a touchy subject and there has been loads of purity myth BS going around in that category. I fear that the addition of NA will only reinforce those trends and that the coming-of-age aspect re: sexuality will disappear, or at least be less present.

Oh, and you don't have to worry anything to worry about. Your life sounds fine. Treat yo self!

September 14, 2013 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings said...

Huzzah! Happy Birthday first of all :D And second, yes this. I was a bit of a party girl at the beginning of college, but then I realized that I was at a tough school and needed to focus. Going to grad school was really the biggest transition though since I moved two states away from my parents (previously four hours drive but same state), had a job since grad school in the sciences involves a job, had to find an apartment (had to break a lease and find a new apartment...), decide on car insurance, etc etc. All while dealing with more school that is designed to make you realize what you don't know and how to figure it out (which is a bit emotionally brutal at times). I definitely wish this was being covered more and that there weren't couples smiling at each other on the cover >.>

September 14, 2013 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Angie said...

Love this post! It's great to get to know you better, and honestly, your story makes me feel much better about my new adult life!

I totally agree that there needs to be more diverse situations in New Adult. While I absolutely love romance (and "sexy sex times"), I would like to read about something else regarding people my age, or the age I just passed. I started college at 16, but remained living at home, and I had a steady boyfriend from 16 to 21. I also didn't party during college, prefering to stay home, read, and play with my dog. I also spent my 21st birthday studying for midterms (my mom called me boring, since we were on our way to Vegas, but whatever). My college life was NOTHING like what I've been reading in NA. But I've always been kind of an oddball anyway. Don't even get me started on trying to find a job! That vicious "no job without experience, no experience without a job" cycle is brutal!

I don't know...I love NA, but I also agree with you on the overabundance of romance and sex. I was excited to find this genre because hooray, stories about people my age! Unfortunately, most of them are not that relatable.

September 14, 2013 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

First of all, happy birthday.

I'd like to see more job hunting, moving into a new house in new adult books. Romance, too, but not exclusively. And I'd love to see something other than kissing couples on NA covers.

September 14, 2013 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger A Library Girl said...

I was lucky enough to actually find a job in the library world, but, otherwise, this post sounds scarily like me. I had so much self-loathing during the job hunt stage.

I don't think I've ever actually read any NA (or, if I did, I probably classified it either as YA or Adult), but the descriptions I've read make it sound like most of them take place during the more enjoyable college stage and then skip right over the "I have a mountain of debt and zero guarantee that I will find a job that pays enough" stage. Something focusing on the self-loathing post-college stage would definitely be different, although I'd probably still be too close to that time in my life to want to read it. Maybe if there were lots of humor and signs of hope mixed in?

September 14, 2013 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Natalie said...

Happy birthday!

This is a great post; you hit on so many things I have problems with in the NA genre. I, personally, love romance in books, but only if it's done right. I met the man I'm going to marry in college, and yes it was exciting and made me all fluttery and all that. But it was also hard work, and involved a lot of growing together and decision making and talks about the future. What I want from NA, especially NA with a romantic bent, is to see more realistic relationships. Basically, I want to see people just being together, working through the hard days, enjoying the good days. It feels like a lot of the romance in NA is just YA type emotions with aged up characters, and while that is probably true for some people, it wasn't true for me.

All the life stuff is important, too, whether the protagonists are in relationships or not. My first year on the job in the real world was exciting, but also really strange. I continued working at a university, but suddenly I wasn't the student worker anymore. Our student workers, many of whom were older than me, suddenly had to listen to what I said. It was very weird.

Basically I hope authors and publishers take note of posts like this one, because I really do think the genre could be a big deal and reach a lot of people. Thanks for writing it. Now go enjoy your birthday!

September 14, 2013 at 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy birthday girl!!

I absolutely love this post, and I think you brought up some really great points. I'm in my final year of college and I'm feeling a lot of what you did: What the heck am I going to do with the rest of my life?? Add to that the fact that most of my college years have been a total hot mess. Without going into details, my experience has not been this awesome romance filled four years. Yes, you could consider me a wild party girl which has definitely led to a lot of...situations, but most of my four years have been filled with confusion and fear. I would love to see some novels focusing on that. Oh, and friendships! I've met AMAZING people in college, and the relationships I have with these people are stronger and deeper than any friends I had growing up. I think there's a lot that could be explored when it comes to adult friendships.

September 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

YOU HAVE A HOUSE! You have no idea how jealous that makes me...although the difficulty of finding librarian jobs makes me feel a bit better about not getting a library degree, which was one of the umpteen million things I probably should have done rather than get a Masters in Professional Writing.

I think when I was younger (and there was no new adult genre...) books and movies definitely gave me unrealistic expectations. Now I just see them as escapism. It would be nice to see more NA books (and more books of all genres, really) w/out as much emphasis on romance. Unfortunately in my NA most of the reviews have said they wished there was MORE romance...so if you want to sell books, you kind of have to have the romance there, unless you're already a well-known author.

September 14, 2013 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

Happy Birthday! May all your book wishes come true & lots of snarky covers come your way.

September 14, 2013 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Sassy Sarah Reads said...

Happy Birthday! In all honesty, since I'm still a teenager I don't think I have much say in how NA books should be because I've yet to experience any time as a NA, but believe me when I turn 18 I will definitely talk all about what should and shouldn't be in it. I do think that most NAs are either filled with bad sex or shaming of some kind towards anyone different and that is getting tiring.

September 14, 2013 at 11:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Happy birthday! This is what I want from New Adult, too - to be about that time in life without just being about sex. It's the reason I've only read one NA book, actually, because every other one I see recommended is just a romance and that's not my thing.

Also, kudos on keeping up the HIMYM gifs all the way through. That's pretty impressive.

September 15, 2013 at 6:36 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Oh my word, your life is my life. Seriously, I was nodding at every single point, minus grad school and that very last step. I'm only 23, so I'm still in the "driving my parents up the wall" part. But YES, things are totally different from what I thought they'd be. By the point, my parents were MARRIED. They lived in an actual house (they they rented, but hey, they weren't living with their parents!) and had actual career-type jobs. And here I am, single, living at home, working but not in the industry I want.

New Adult as it is now doesn't describe my life at all. Nor is it an adequate form of escapism, because where the heck is my sci-fi and fantasy?! I champion New Adult, but I champion what it COULD be and what it SHOULD be, rather than the prototype it is now.

September 15, 2013 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Love. For you AND this post.

Seriously, I think I made the comment some months back that the New Adult books that are earning the bad stereotype are SO NOT typical of at least my life. It's awesome to know that I'm not the only one staring at these over-sexed covers about guys lining up for girls/girls lining up for guys/etc and wondering where the heck THOSE NA years were when I was around. I'm newly 28 and going "um." I mean, yes I've had relationships, partied some, tried my hand at college, but it was NOT what some NA books are presenting.

It WAS however: WHOA INDEPENDENCE mixed with HOLY CRAP FEAR, new friends, losing old friends, keeping some, responsibility, paying bills, studying, having my heart broken. It wasn't all this "I have a terrible secret that will ruin my life unless I let this pretty boy heal me." That stereotype is SO bad and I want it to go away. It's setting such unhealthy expectations for any young teens reading these books.

I am seriously so so glad you wrote this post. I want NA to become a respected category SO badly, but only if the books written in that age group are actually representatives of REAL NA life.


Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

September 15, 2013 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger Lyn Kaye said...

Many happy birthday wishes!

I'm glad that you pointed out that college isn't just for finding romance. College is also about finding out who you are, and where you are going. This is a time for friendship and learning about life and what is in store for you out there in the huge, wide world.

I wish you all of the best - I am about 5 years ahead of you, and I can say that I wish I had been more in your frame of mind when I was your age. I know you're going to do something awesome with your life!


September 15, 2013 at 10:09 PM  
Blogger meg said...

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY! (trying this again but without twitter because apparently i am like a person who has never seen the internet) I hope you had lots of cake and confetti and other delightful celebration-y things.

Try not to worry too much about not being a grown up (she says with the wisdom that comes from being a whole 10 months older) I have come to the realization that no matter how many times I pay my own doctor's bills, put a (full!) tank of gas on a credit card and check the balance of my 401k (hahahaha, just kidding, I don't know how to do that) I will never feel like a grown up. It probably doesn't help that sometimes I think 'I am going to eat Lunchables for dinner and no one can tell me not to' and then realize I am sticking my tongue out at no one.

September 16, 2013 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This post is superb. That's exactly why I choose to stay away from the NA genre: because it's so incredibly unrealistic at least based on my personal experiences. The characters are ones I could never hope (or not) to relate to and it makes the stories so very unappealing. I guess it is fiction after all, but when it comes to contemporary stories it needs to be one that I can relate to and no one in these stories have a care in the world. Being a grownup sucks sometimes but I suppose I don't really want to read about that as well as live it but I still dislike the 'my life revolves around the romance' trend with NA.

September 16, 2013 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ha, I LOVE romance, but I only want it to be the theme with the most page time in contemps usually. And it should NEVER be the only theme. Anyway, I don't really think most NA is YA with sex, more like adult romance novels which are trying to pretend they're something new.

September 16, 2013 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thanks Audrey!

Oh yeah, if you're not into romance, this isn't the thing for you yet.

Library jobs suck. Ugh, I am so sorry yours is a contract position so that you have to stress about it every year. Especially since I know how much you love your current library. GOOD LUCK!

September 16, 2013 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

No cake, but I did have a sundae and some candy.

Self-discovery is such a crucial piece of this. In high school, your peers tend to define you, because you've generally known them forever and vice versa. Though popularity is still a thing in college and grown up life, it is less so of a consideration. You're really free to define yourself and get to know you free of society's constraints. It's a bit painful, but crucial.

Interesting! Funny that you thought you would go to University on the American time table. Oops! I had an eighth grade boyfriend, but other than that my first bf was 18. And, of course, I have yet to have a serious boyfriend. So. Being a legal adult was not as different as I hoped, particularly since in the US it's another three years until you can drink.

There is a growth period, and that's what I want to see, and the books I've read do not really show this change.

September 16, 2013 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

THANK YOU! Ooh, which few? I would love to check them out! And, yes, I was partying with Kara and Ashleigh!

September 16, 2013 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Great post! And I think this is what most people's "new adult" lives are like. (You basically described my life right now. lol) You know what I'd love to see in a NA book? The MC freaking out because she doesn't know how to fix something in her new apartment. Like. I can't even tell you how many times this has happened to me. HAHA!

September 16, 2013 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Bahaha, and it's not like there weren't Harlequin novels with protagonists in that age range before, so I'm just like O_o.

Oh man, those adult things are so much more terrifying. I wasn't really worrying about romance anymore by junior year, because I was entering that "the fuck will I do after this" phase of life.

I'd like to see more sex in YA, but I'd like it to be like the scenes in Bitter Kingdom or Anatomy of a Boyfriend. Realistic and awkward.

September 16, 2013 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Why, thank you! Ha, I'm not a party girl, mostly just because I hate people. Haha.

Oh man, all of that stuff is just so overwhelming and I felt so completely underprepared, you know? Fiction told me it would be this happy thing, so easy and romantic. Nope.

September 16, 2013 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

I guess I'm just a sour old adult who wants to read proper adult books when it comes to romance. Not that I read many, but it's better than reading about kids (NA & YA) exploring their sexuality because that makes me feel like a perv.

September 17, 2013 at 12:22 PM  

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