Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Adult Lit: My Picks

The Atlantic has a little article on YA lit, including its popularity with "old adults" and the possibility of an imprint for "new adults" at St. Martins [via Bookshelves of Doom]. We all know I love the idea of books for twenty-somethings, so in honor of the discussion, here's a list of the books that sort of hit me in the face in my twenties. I read them and thought: this is my life.

*The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. In which the son of a mobster briefly--for the summer after graduating from college--considers leaving the comfortable straight and narrow path his father has put him on.

*Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. When her father drags her to a new boarding school for her senior year, Blue van Meer is folded into a clique of cool students curated by a film teacher. But the film teacher is dead in the introduction, so obviously things go horribly wrong. Other books about academia/boarding school: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostokova, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, and On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

*Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I think this happens to everyone at some point in their twenties: you become involved with someone fascinating and magical but damaged, and eventually you want to escape, but feel obligated to stay. The protagonist of Norwegian Wood, Watanabe, gets involved with no less than 3 magical but damaged people.

*Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. A young reporter with a thing for her editor researches her Grandmother's story of what happened to her during the Holocaust. Part of a whole series of retold fairy tales. I also read Tam Lin by Pamela Dean and loved it.

*I Was Told There'd be Cake by Sloane Crosley. There are so many memoirs that qualify as new adult lit. I related to Crosely's tales of longing for coolness in New York--her sad wanderings through European cities and disappointments in apartment hunting--more than I wanted to. I also loved Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, although that might only resonate with people who grew up religious ... or in a historical reenactment? Other memoirs that come to mind: Tweak by Nic Sheff, Smashed by Koren Zailckas, A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown, and Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

*Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. Ben is annoyed by the fortune cookie metaphor in the film that wins his girlfriend's Asian-American film festival, and she's annoyed when he hires a pert white girl who's "just his type" at the movie theater he manages. It's like he wants to ignore the fact that he's Asian--haven't we all wanted to ignore an important part of our identity? Other graphic novels: Life Sucks and La Perdida by Jessica Abel, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

*Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. Right, so this doesn't exactly reflect my life, but it's an obvious pick: Winter Santiaga takes over the family business of drugs and violence when her Dad is locked up. It's a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, part wish fulfillment and part morality play. In fact, lots of urban fiction features protagonists crossing over to adulthood: Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree, Moth to a Flame by Ashley Antoinette, B-More Careful by Shannon Holmes, Harlem Girl Lost by Treasure E. Brown, and Criminal Minded by Tracy Brown, to name a few.

*The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The sequel just came out, so I guess most people know this is a story of what it might really be like if a bunch of disaffected high school students got access to a beautiful but weirdly hollow other world like Narnia.

*Where She Went by Gayle Foreman. Follow-up to what was certainly a YA novel. Concert cellist Mia and her ex-boyfriend, indie rocker frontman Adam, spend a night walking the streets of New York and untangling what happened between them. Two other series that follow their protagonists from teenhood to adulthood: (starting with) Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty and The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White. Arguably, also the Hunger Games?

*How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Works backwards from four sisters' early twenties to their arrival in the US--from the DR--in their teens. They're Dominican, not Mexican, but I still feel like if you loved reading The House on Mango Street in 10th grade, you'll love the vignettes about the Garcia Girls. Other stories of being between cultures: Brick Lane by Monica Ali, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Londonstani by Gautam Malkani, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

And I didn't even include historical fiction, the ouvre of the Brontes and Jane Austen, popular series like Sookie Stackhouse, Kalisha Buckhannon's books, stories by Karen Russell or Kelly Link, the Bell Jar, early Madeleine L'Engle, or Momofuku, which is a cook book but is also the story of one Dave Chang. But that's 10, which is a satisfying number.


  1. Love this post, Emily! Was going to add one of my own favorites, but then re-read your post and saw you had already included it in your "fine print" (Never Let Me Go). Glad to see you are posting regularly again, too.

  2. It's nice to be back! Never Let Me Go is truly a perfect novel for those between years. I remember the actual texture of the hardcover copy I checked out of the college library ... which makes me think: college libraries are the perfect places to develop collections like this ...