So I started Freshmen Blues as an experiment in New Adult, and I have to admit I didn't expect to enjoy it so much or to have others enjoy it as much as they seem to be. I'm very glad! And of course, writing it has made me think even more about the NA genre since my post last May.
I think the intersection of NA and speculative elements is, in a way, even more difficult than the intersection of NA and erotica. NA is a genre borne out of helping new adults today read about people like them. Maybe its the economy, or maybe its just the natural evolution of society, but today there are a lot of people between the age of 18 to 27 who don't quite know where they're going in life, or have succeeded professionally but not romantically or vice versa. They are discovering not only themselves but their place in society as a fully functioning adult. New Adult is there to address them.
So then, where does speculative elements and genres like sci fi and fantasy fit in to that? Would the exploits of a 21 year old out of mage school be comparable or relatable to a 21 year old who just graduated college but can't find a job in an economy where the unemployment rate for those under 26 is twice that of the general unemployment average? Would a paranormal story about a 22 year old half vampire trying to fit in be relatable? What about a story in a completely different universe--after all, Kenneth and Thorn are just out of their respective colleges, but I wouldn't call the Enforcer's series new adult.
Typically, when genre is the main point of the story, the story is classified as that genre. The Enforcer's series is steampunk. The main character in my favorite fantasy series, the Wheel of Time, is a teenager at the beginning of Book 1 and makes life changing discoveries about himself, but WOT is considered fantasy, not new adult. There are tons of novels out there with protagonists who fit the age range for new adult but are classified as sci fi and fantasy, and not new adult.
When the point of the story is to show someone's struggles with adulthood or gaining adulthood, having heavy genre elements is tough, especially when adulthood as a concept may change in other worlds and universes. And to add, self discovery doesn't stop at age 26--Aldric and Hermann from the Perils of Forgotten Pain series had plenty to discover about themselves and their roles as something other than soldiers, despite both characters being older. I think for something to really be classified as New Adult, there has to be something relatable and dare I say it, contemporary, in the story.
I think, at least in the current climate of new adult novels, the genre elements you can bring in would have to be light. After all, the story in Freshmen Blues takes place in an altered earth, not a completely different universe or in the far future, like some of my other work. The things that happen to Chris in college are normal and relatable. And the main thrust of the genre elements are basically superpowers, which aren't even seen as unusual in that world, and are in fact how people get the best jobs. It's more like magical realism than anything else.
It also lends itself well to the themes of NA. After all, NA is about self discovery. What epitomizes that better than discovering one's true passion and mastering a super powerful skill related to it? I'm surprised there aren't more NA stories out there that have more traditional superhero plotlines, to be honest.
Of course, those are just my thoughts. If you have any thoughts about new adult and genre, feel free to say so in the comments.