You may or may not have heard of New Adult, but one thing’s for certain about this fledgling category: it hasn’t had any trouble finding a huge readership, or huge sales. While it’s still in the early stages, and the category may grow in other directions, right now it’s dominated by contemporary romance, often set in college, focused on the phase of life when one transitions into legal and emotional adulthood. Authors credited with bringing it into the mainstream include Colleen Hoover (Hopeless, Slammed), Jamie McGuire (Beautiful Disaster, Walking Disaster), and Jessica Park (Flat-Out Love, Left Drowning). But lately it seems that a million new NA authors pop up every day, so here’s a little starter guide to my favorites to help ease you in:
Unteachable, by Leah Raeder
Romance between teacher and student may be a familiar trope, but gritty, lyrical writing, emotionally honest and taboo-embracing characters, and an unusually literary approach in a largely commercial category make this stunning debut stand out in a major way. (The unique neon cover doesn’t hurt either.) Hands-down one of my favorite reads—and most frequent recommendations—of 2013.
Easy, by Tammara Webber
Ask a New Adult author or reader about his or her gateway into the category, and perhaps eight times out of ten, the answer will be this book. Webber dives right into one of the most important college-campus discussions—sexual assault (and, unlike most other NA books tackling the topic, self-defense)—and what results is a main character who strongly develops throughout the course of the story, and a sweet, hot romance with a guy who has his own demons.
One & Only, by Viv Daniels
Alpha males tend to be the dominant (no pun intended) choice of love interest in NA, but if, like me, you’re a sucker for a hot, smart nerd, look no further than Dylan Kingsley. Major bonus points for the rare female main character who’s brilliant at and passionate about science, and for the interesting “second family” backstory. (Fun fact: Viv Daniels is the pseudonym of Diana Peterfreund, who’s no stranger to the college setting; she’s also the author of the great Secret Society Girl series, which would likely have been New Adult if the genre had existed back in 2006.)
Wait For You, by J. Lynn
One of the biggest NA success stories, this Jennifer Armentrout–penned novel was originally self-published, and went on to hit the New York Times best-seller list before being bought and re-released by HarperCollins. Armentrout is one of Young Adult’s most prolific authors right now (don’t ask how many books she writes or sells in a year; the answer will not make you feel good about that spreadsheet you were so proud of this morning), and her mastery of hot witty banter and dreamy love interests is as strong here as anywhere.
Faking it, by Cora Carmack
It’s a sad fact of series that the second book is often the weakest, but that’s definitely not the case when it comes to Carmack’s Losing It series, in which book #2 is #1 in my heart. It’s tough to beat Cade as far as love interests go, and tattooed rocker chick Max is a fun and welcome change from the usual good girls in this category. One thing that pervades all of Carmack’s writing is a definite sense of humor, making her one of NA’s most fun authors to read and an easy entry for my “instabuy authors” list.
Only Between Us, by Mila Ferrera
As with Carmack, Ferrera’s sophomore effort is my favorite of her books, but only marginally—both this book and its companion, Everything Between Us, marry psychology with creative arts in steamy, memorable romances.
All of You, by Christina Lee
Like most readers familiar with this category, I was sold on this book the second I heard the words “virgin hero.” It’s a clever gender-flip in a category where the virginal heroine is all too pervasive a trope, and the fact that said hero is a super sweet, super hot tattoo artist doesn’t hurt.
Where I End and You Begin, by Andra Brynn
This book isn’t a ghost story…at least not in the traditional sense. But acerbic narrator Bianca is definitely haunted, and her story unravels as her relationship with priest-to-be Daniel deepens. Though this is a considerably more under-the-radar title than the rest, dark, lovely writing and a unique story presentation make this one of the category’s standouts.
The Sound of Us, by Ash Poston
If you love great dialogue, quirky characters, and music themes as much as I do, this debut about a girl who falls for the lead singer of a band plagued with scandal will be right up your alley. In a category full of dark themes that often border on depressing, this is one of my favorite laugh-out-loud bright spots.
Social Skills, by Sara Alva
Despite the fact that NA is about forging your identity now that you’re entering adulthood, there are disappointingly few NA books featuring LGBT characters. The story of shy, awkward Connor coming out in college and hooking up with polar opposite Jared is my favorite so far, in part because it masterfully handles not only his navigation of his sexuality and first serious relationship, but his evolution into a strong, independent adult—exactly what this category was made for.