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    17 Great New Adult Novels That Explore Growing Up

    Ranging from college-bound young adults to late-twentysomethings still figuring it out, these books all have protagonists who are new to adulthood literally, metaphorically, or both.

    For anyone who has not heard the term "New Adult," it was coined in 2011 by Dan Weiss and his team at St. Martin's Press and intended to describe books that "bridge the gap" between YA and Adult fiction, books that explore what it means to come of age not as an adolescent but as an adult. They're books that explore newfound freedom and independence, and the choices and developments that go with them. Below are titles that exemplify that idea, whether or not they were actually published as New Adult. (And not many traditionally published books were published as such; the phrase ended up being primarily used as a descriptor for self-published college-set romance.) These books take on everything from losing faith and finding love to financial hardship and familial estrangement, running the gamut from literary to commercial, fantasy to romance and beyond.

    1. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

    Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

    Release date: March 2nd, 2021

    What it's about: Though Choi's novels are published as YA, all three of them (beginning with Emergency Contact) are fantastic examples of books that perfectly capture the shift from adolescence into adulthood (with characters of an age to match), and many of the issues that come with it. In her newest, fashion student Jayne's world is upended when her estranged sister, the always-responsible and ever-perfect June, is diagnosed with cancer. Now Jayne's moving in (not the worst thing, considering the gross apartment and boyfriend she's leaving behind) and revitalizing a relationship she didn't even know she wanted, until June's deeper secret threatens to bring it all crashing down, taking Jayne's tenuous mental health with it. This story digs deep into both disordered eating and America's failing healthcare system, and while it's not an easy read, it's both a searing and poignant one. 

    For another YA starring a college student coping with an eating disorder, check out Love & Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves.

    Get it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    2. Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

    Mariner Books

    Release date: January 5th, 2021

    What it's about: In this razor-sharp satire, 22-year-old Darren is perfectly content to crush it as a Starbucks barista, until everyone convinces him to follow an opportunity granted by a chance encounter. Through trial by intense, belittling, racist fire, he's turned into Buck, a master salesman who'll do anything to get ahead, especially when he becomes someone with nothing left to lose. Piece by piece, he watches his humanity fall away as everyone he once loved turns away from who he's become, but finding his way back from Buck to Darren may be one move he cannot make. 

    For another great novel on being young and Black in an otherwise white workforce, check out The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Delilah Harris.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    3. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

    St. Martin's Griffin

    Release date: May 14th, 2019

    What it's about: This obscenely charming contemporary romance stars Alex Claremont-Diaz, son of the (female) president of the United States, and Prince Henry, the British royal he'd long thought one of the most contemptible people on the planet. But it turns out Henry is quite the sweet charmer, which leads to two important realizations for Alex: he's bi, and he's got some serious feelings that likely spell big trouble for both guys in the spotlight. Add in a fabulously fun group of friends and whip-smart banter, and it's no wonder this book blew up into one of the biggest romance novels in recent history. 

    Follow it up with McQuiston's newest release, the wholly immersive One Last Stop, which similarly features twentysomethings, but in a time travel romance that celebrates both New York City and queer history.

    Get it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    4. Fresh by Margot Wood

    Abrams / Via

    Release Date: August 3rd, 2021

    What it's about: Loosely taking its inspiration from Austen's Emma, Wood's gloriously messy debut follows Elliot, a freshman at Emerson College who's having the time of her life partying her way through it. But the fantasy of constant, spectacular sex and being able to ignore finals doesn't quite match the reality, and growing up ends up being a lot more work, but also a lot more meaningful, than she ever imagined.

    Get it from Bookshop, Target, or a local bookstore through Indiebound here.

    5. The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

    Riverhead Books

    Release date: July 31st, 2018

    What it's about: Will's left his religious devotion behind him, and now that he's attending the prestigious Edwards College, he's determined to see what else life his in store without the specter of the Almighty holding him back. What he discovers is that his heart is now ripe for the taking, easily and wholly won by the magnetic Phoebe. But Phoebe is searching for something beyond romance, something that will fill the hole left behind by her mother's death and the culpability Phoebe feels as a result. What she finds, though, is a dangerous cult, one that tests both of their limits as they examine the new role of faith it and its enigmatic leader adopts in both of their lives.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    6. Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

    Park Row

    Release date: Febuary 23rd, 2021

    What it's about: A perfect example of how coming-of-age happens over and over again, Rogers' on-point debut is the painfully relatable tale of Grace, a queer Black woman nearing thirty who's just earned her PhD in Astronomy and celebrates by accidentally getting so drunk in Vegas, she marries a woman she doesn't know. A woman who doesn't even live on the same side of the country. As Grace comes to terms with how deeply she needs a break from her life, she realizes this marriage is the perfect opportunity to get that, and takes off to New York for the summer to get to know her bride. There she finds not just love, but found family, mental clarity...and the frightening realization that she needs to make more than temporary changes to her life before she burns all the way out.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    7. Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

    Dell / Via

    Release date: July 18th, 2006

    What it's about: Peterfreund may be best known for middle grade and YA, but first came this smart, absorbing, and effortlessly witty quartet about a girl who breaks through the glass ceiling of a previously all-male secret society at her Ivy League school. (Think a more grown-up Frankie Landau-Banks.) Amy Haskell never expected to be tapped for Rose & Grave; after all, in their entire history at Eli University, they've never been open to women. But that surprise is only the beginning, as a whirlwind of secrets, conspiracy, and betrayal lie ahead, all while Amy's still trying to figure out friendships, sexual freedom, and everything else college has to offer.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    8. Real Life by Brandon Taylor

    Riverhead Books

    Release date: February 18th, 2020

    What it's about: Books set at university mean a fresh start for the protagonist, but no matter how high Wallace climbs in this Booker Prize-finalist debut, there's always someone ready and waiting to keep him down, including the anonymous colleague who destroyed his research. Over the course of a weekend, Wallace's carefully protected newest phase of life blows apart, arguably both for better and for worse, and forces him to confront his traumatic past in order to consider his future.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    9. Chef's Kiss by Jarrett Melendez, illustrated by Danica Brine, colored by Hank Jones, and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

    Oni Press

    Release date: March 22nd, 2022

    What it's about: All recent grad Ben wants is to be able to put his English major to work, but when he finds himself shut out of every writing and publishing job imaginable, he has no choice but to grab the first opening he can. Working at a restaurant wasn't the plan, but the more Ben polishes his culinary skills and the harder he falls for one of the chefs, the more he thinks he might have found a future in the last place he ever expected.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    10. Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge

    Rare Bird Books

    Release date: August 9th, 2016

    What it's about: None of Natalie's relationships seem to go anywhere good, and until she can figure out why, she's taking a vow of celibacy. It's just as well, since she's busy trying to figure out whether this opportunity to become a plus-size model is really something she wants to pursue, especially if it means leaving fashion design behind. So now she's digging into the past while simultaneously parsing through her choices in the present, all the while confronting her emotions, bisexuality, and body, making for a thoughtful, authentic, and inspiring read.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    11. By Any Means Necessary by Cam Montgomery

    Page Street Kids

    Release date:  October 8th, 2019

    What it's about: Now that Torrey's made it out of his stifling neighborhood and into freshman year at college, he can finally breathe. Or so he thinks. While he's making new friends and meeting a new guy, his beloved and deceased uncle's bee farm is being foreclosed on, and Torrey will do anything to stop that from happening. Even if it means giving up his first tastes of joy. Even if it means returning to a life that doesn't understand him and his queerness. Even if holding onto the most important piece of his past means giving up on his future. Montgomery's sophomore novel skillfully and honestly grapples with self-care, gentrification, and the painful reality of loving a family that's only willing to love a certain version of you back.

    For more more great college-set YA with queer Black protagonists, check out Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann, and keep an eye out for the upcoming Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    12. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

    Flatiron Books

    Release date: October 8th, 2019

    What it's about: Everyone knows Bardugo for her legendary Grishaverse, but she aged up for her adult debut with this contemporary fantasy starring college freshman Galaxy "Alex" Stern, a girl who has seriously Seen Some Things (including ghosts). Alex is a standout at Yale, and not for the reasons anyone wants to be, including being the only survivor of a multiple homicide. But with her mentor gone, her memories trickling back, and no one she can truly rely on, Alex has to use everything at her disposal, no matter how horrific or deadly, to keep her place and society safe. While this is a story primarily of death, danger, and magic, those who've lived in perpetual survival mode from a young age will likely see themselves in Alex's story, and maybe even live a little vicariously through her power.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    13. Trade Me by Courtney Milan

    Createspace Independent Publishing Platform

    Release date: January 20th, 2015

    What it's about: When "new adult" as a category was at its peak, it was fully dominated by contemporary college-set romance, some of which were truly gems of the genre. This one by Milan, usually known for her historical romances, cracks open that feeling of the time of meeting and bonding with people outside your comfort zone, as working-class Tina Chen and heir-to-billions Blake Reynolds butt heads in class and decide to try on each other's shoes for a while, learning plenty about how the other half lives.

    For some other contemporary new adult romance faves, check out Deeper and Harder by Robin York, Hold Me Down by Sara Taylor Woods, The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen, and the next book in Milan's series, Hold Me.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    14. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

    G.P. Putnam's Sons

    Release date: December 31st, 2019

    What it's about: One of the biggest and most notable adult coming-of-age novels in recent years, Reid's debut revolves around a Black 25-year-old babysitter Emira, who's already struggling with the approach of the "losing health insurance" age when a security guard accuses her of kidnapping her white charge. A video of the incident spreads far and wide, forcing Emira to deal not just with the humiliation of it but her boss's ill-thought out desperation to make up for it in this searing examination of race, class, microaggression, and privilege.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    15. It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland

    Feiwel & Friends

    Release date: May 18th, 2021

    What it's about: Queer girl band Moonlight Overthrow was a raging success, until it all fell apart, taking the connections between its members with it. Now everyone's embarked on different futures, but rumor of a reunion is leaking into the media, and when one of the former members does successfully bring them back together for a fundraising concert, they'll have to reckon with who they were, who they are, what tore them apart, and whether there's any future between them. Basically, if the idea of an extremely queer YA crossover Daisy Jones and the Six sounds like your jam, you need to scoop up this fantastically compelling read told through a combination of narrative, fandom life, and multiple POVs.

    Buy it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    16. In at the Deep End by Kate Davies

    Mariner Books

    Release date: June 4th, 2019

    What it's about: Billed as a lesbian Bridget Jones, this debut's greatest strength isn't in the way it absolutely does live up to the former's wit and humor, but in its deft observation of a queer awakening intertwined in a toxic relationship. At 26, it would seem Julia should have her life together, but when she realizes she's a lesbian, it starts a whole new beginning. At the center of her realization is Sam, her new lover who's far more advanced in all matters, and who takes Julia to places she isn't quite sure she's ready for. The deeper Julia falls into this confusing and painful relationship that doesn't quite seem to work for either one of them, the more it'll take to dig herself out. But when your entire awakening has been wrapped up in the wrong partner, how do you figure out who you are on your own?

    Get it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.

    17. Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett

    Atheneum Books for Young Readers

    Release date: November 17th, 2020

    What it's about: Set in college in the '90s, this psychological thriller stars Emily, who immediately gets overwhelmed by the loneliness that comes with not yet having found your people in a new place. That feeling makes her the perfect target for the Kingdom, which feels like everything she's always the beginning. Then a dream trip to Italy turns into a mission trip so dangerous Emily has no idea what to do with herself, or how to make it back. The only thing she knows for sure is that somebody's dead and she does not want to join them. Those Who Prey particularly shines in its humanity, reading more like a surprisingly relatable memoir than salacious fiction while still maintaining the intriguing true crime feel.

    For another compelling and nuanced look at cult fiction in YA, with a 19-year-old protagonist who eschewed college enrollment in favor of a journalism job, check out The Project by Courtney Summers.

    Get it from Bookshop or your local bookstore via Indiebound here.