I am 24 years old. I have my B.A., and I work at a job that’s vaguely related to my major. It’s boring and slightly soul-crushing, but I’m thankful to have a job. I don’t really know what I want my career to be. I live with my boyfriend of (almost) five years, but I don’t feel nearly ready to get married. I like watching Disney movies while drinking too much wine with my friends. I love to read, but rarely do I find books that portray my stage of life. There seem to be very few literary fiction novels about contemporary post-college, pre-marriage characters, and I find this very disappointing. Where are all the books for twenty-somethings?
I love a good family-reunion drama or a failing marriage story. I enjoy a nice coming-of-age novel. But I CRAVE books about characters who are my age, who are dealing with the same things that I am — struggling to find employment, working at boring jobs, living in tiny apartments, entering serious relationships, trying to figure out what it is to be a grown-up, barhopping with friends, moving in with a significant other, figuring out relationships with your family when you no longer live near them, being unsure where you want your life to go, etc. I want to be able to see myself, or people of my generation, in the books I read.
When I do see a character my age in the books I read, she’s usually secondary, or part of a book that has many main characters — such as Want Not, Visible City, We Are Water, and Maine — or she’s only that age for a short part of a book spanning decades — as in The Interestings. I rarely see a whole book about a woman in her twenties figuring shit out. Some of my favorite books are coming-of-age novels about children and teens, written for adults — like The Age of Miracles, Salvage the Bones, The Round House, Life of Pi, A Tale for the Time Being, Swamplandia!, and Songs of Willow Frost — but I have read very few novels about twenty-somethings written for adults — The Bell Jar and Norwegian Wood are my favorites, but neither of them are contemporary.
In recent years, New Adult has become a genre, portraying protagonists who “generally fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc” (NA Alley). That sounds like just what I’m looking for, right? However, based on the articles* about NA that I’ve read, it seems like a genre aimed at people who are graduating from YA and looking for something a little older. As Lauren Sarner writes in her Huffington post article “The Problem with New Adult Books,” “New Adult is a label that is condescending to readers and authors alike. It implies that the books act as training wheels between Young Adult and Adult.”
Now, YA is not my bag and never really has been; I lived in horror of most YA aimed at girls when I was a teen and just read the same few books I DID like over and over again, until I jumped enthusiastically into adult fiction. And most of the NA books I see featured in lists revolve around romance or seem… fluffy. I have seen multiple references to NA as “sexed-up YA,” although I have also seen just as many criticisms of this reduction. (However, 6 of the top 10 New Adult bestsellers on Amazon feature ripped, shirtless men on their covers, so I’ll let that speak for itself.) New Adult, as it seems to be represented, is not what I’m looking for.
What I AM looking for are well-written, literary novels about characters whose lives resemble my own. I want to see myself in the books I read, and I don’t want them to be fluffy. I want them to be real. I want stories about characters in their twenties from authors like Emma Donoghue, Jennifer Egan, and Meg Wolitzer, who craft incredible, vibrant characters and insightful, believable stories. From where I sit (on my couch, in my pajamas at 2:00 in the afternoon, because that’s where I am in my life), there seems to be a dearth of these kinds of books — books that are serious and smart and relatable and about people starting their adult lives. I know they’re out there and that they’re wonderful, but I’m having trouble finding them.
Since I generally despise “20 books you must read in your twenties”-type listicles (though there are a plethora of them on Buzzfeed, Thought Catalog, Flavorwire, and The Huffington Post), I’m turning to you, my fellow readers for suggestions.
What are your favorite books for post-college, pre-marriage adults?