If you’re not familiar with the term, YA, or Young Adult, is a category of literature geared towards 12-18 year-olds. When I first started reading as a hobby, I was a freshly 18-year-old high school graduate, making me the upper cap of YA. However, all the books I had in my arsenal—books I had been wanting to read for years but never got around to—were YA, so that’s what I gravitated towards.
Another issue I faced was looking to “BookTok” for my book recommendations. A lot of popular BookTok books (ex. They Both Die at the End, We Were Liars, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder) are YA, but they’re being promoted by adults. There’s nothing wrong with liking YA as an adult, but a lot of adults won’t be able to relate to the kind of content in YA novels. Even if someone who looks to be your age is talking about a book, it might not be in your age range, so it’s a good idea to check the age rating before reading.
The first few BookTok books I read were fine, mainly because they were light-hearted and fast-paced, unlike the books I read in high school. Then I encountered my first DNF (again, if you’re not familiar, this means ‘did not finish’). The book in question was Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, and there was nothing I could point out that was wrong with it, but I, for the life of me, could not find the motivation to continue it. So I stopped. And didn’t pick up another book for months.
This one book kickstarted a month-long reading burnout. Don’t waste your time like I did; notice the signs of outgrowing YA.
An obvious indicator of my graduation into NA, or New Adult, was my inability to connect with the subject matter in YA books. It’s hard to feel like you’re actually getting older, especially when you first turn 18. I often feel like I’m a 15-year-old trapped in a 20-year-old’s body, but reading YA is a great way to remember my mental age. When reading a contemporary novel that takes place in high school and talks about all the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, I feel uncomfortable because I can’t relate to it anymore.
It’s also a wake-up call to reread one of your favorite books for nostalgia’s sake, only to realize that it’s actually terrible. This happened to me a few months ago when I reread Looking for Alaska by John Green, my favorite book in 7th grade. I can’t describe the quality of this book, but I have a quote that does a good job—”Y’all smoke to enjoy it. I smoke to die.” I probably enjoyed the book at the time because I thought it was an accurate depiction of how high school is. Now I have the knowledge that high school is nothing like that, so the novelty is lost.
It can be sad to realize the things you loved as a kid really weren’t that great. It’s weird to grow out of something that you’ve been attached to for so long. Some YA books were a part of my teenage identity, such as Harry Potter. But getting older isn’t a bad thing! We call this maturing. Maturing is realizing Harry Potter isn’t the greatest piece of literature to ever exist.
Now that you recognize the signs that you’re ready to start reading NA, here are some book recommendations to ease your transition:
1. Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Let’s start with some YA recs that can be enjoyed when you’re an adult. YA romance can be uncomfortable, but coming-of-ages are reliable because they are more focused on identity and personal journey, especially when they are queer coming-of-ages. These healed my inner child!
2. The House in the Cerulean Sea
This is a whimsical, light-fantasy read that is so wholesome and heartwarming! It definitely can be enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences, especially those who grew up with Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
3. Six of Crows
YA fantasy comes with the benefit that age is less important when high school doesn’t exist. It’s marked YA due to the lack of mature content, but rest assured, it is suitable for anyone who enjoys reading fantasy, including adults. This and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, are two of my all-time favorite fantasy novels!
4. Normal People and other novels by Sally Rooney
Sally Rooney’s books are a great way to jump into NA. They’re fast-paced and easy to read, but the content is appropriate for adults. Her novels are contemporary, so they deal with relatable topics for your average college student.
5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and other novels by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid writes engaging, unpredictable historical fiction novels, centered around a variety of themes, such as fame and secrets. Her novels are fast-paced and serious page-turners. Warning: don’t pick her books up unless you have time to spare, because you won’t want to put them back down.
6. The Song of Achilles and Circe
Madeline Miller’s novels are perfect for those who enjoy fantasy and mythology (ahem, former Percy Jackson kids), but they are so much more than that—TSOA is one of my favorite MLM romances and Circe is a girlboss. They are harder to read than other books on this list, but the writing style is beautiful and poetic.