Jo Talks Books: On Needing More Books Featuring Twenty Something Protagonists

Hi all! I had hoped I might be able to get another discussion post up for you in February, but alas, the end of February was super busy with assignment deadlines and work experience and everything, so I didn’t have time! Anyway, as promised, I’m going to be talking about the need for more books with 20+ aged protagonists this week as it’s something that I feel very strongly about and after all of the conversations that happened around this subject at the beginning of the year, I wanted to put my two cents in.

The book world is all about representation right now, and that’s awesome, it’s amazing to get to see people from marginalised communities telling their stories being recognised and finally starting to get the representation they deserve. However in terms of seeing ourselves in books, twenty somethings are the oft forgotten group. We have books for children, books for teens, books for adults (which are nearly always about older adults, 30 or even 40+) but the category for 20 somethings, New Adult, never really took off, so we are left wondering where exactly we fit and barely ever seeing characters our age in the books we read.

For me, I turned 20 two years ago and I am still at a place where I can relate to teens in books, which is why I still love and read YA, but at the same time, I would love to get to see characters who are at my stage in life. Your twenties are a super weird time, because you’re considered an adult, but you don’t really feel put together enough for that, you’re dealing with your first tastes of independence and having to manage on your own, moving away from home and having to make new friends at University, living without your parents for the first time, dealing with living with flatmates for the first time, I mean the list goes on. You have first jobs, first adult relationships, losing your virginity (because not everyone loses it at school), there are so many firsts and weird and different dynamics in your twenties and it seems like a really untapped area.

I know I really struggled when I first came to Uni, having to live away from home for the first time, hating my flatmates, not necessarily enjoying my course, having to deal with the fact that I wasn’t a heavy drinker in atmosphere that is very heavy on drinking. If I could have had books with protagonists who were the same age as me, dealing with the same issues that I was, I think it could have really helped me those first few months at Uni. Being in my twenties sometimes feels like being lost out at sea, but unlike teens, we don’t have as many books about our experiences to help keep us afloat.

At the moment, the large majority of NA books, books for twenty somethings are focused on the sex and relationships part of being a twenty something and whilst of course that is a part of being a twenty something, it is not the only part. I know for me personally, that sex has not been a part of my experience and that my friends have been a lot more important than me than romantic relationships in the last few years. We need more variety, more diversity to reflect the experiences of different twenty somethings.

Also I’d love to see more non-realistic fiction for twenty somethings. At the moment, the large majority of NA seems to be realistic fiction and not everyone wants that. One of the reasons I loved A Darker Shade of Magic so much (though it is labelled Adult Fantasy and not NA Fantasy), is because Lila, Kell and Rhy were all either in their late teens or early twenties and it was like YES, FINALLY, I am seeing characters close to my age, having adventures. A reader’s love of adventures doesn’t stop when they pass nineteen, and it would be great to see more older characters still having adventures! There’s so many options for YA and Adult readers and it would be great to see the same level of options for twenty somethings as well.

Your twenties are a time of massive change, from going to Uni, to getting your first jobs, to potentially having more serious relationships, to moving out and potentially getting your own house, changing relationships with your parents, changing relationships with your friends, balancing friends from Uni with friends from back home, there is so much to unpack there and having books that featured all these things, might make those changes easier to deal with.

There’s so much doubt that comes with being in your twenties, especially when you’re in Uni, because everyone is constantly asking you “What are you going to do next?” and you’re meant to be looking towards your future but everything feels so uncertain. There’s quite a natural evolution from YA into NA I feel, because you don’t immediately become an adult overnight, all of the feelings you have when you’re a teen are still just as relevant when you’re in your twenties, you just add a whole bunch of new concerns and doubts to them as well. YA is about figuring out who you are, and there’s a lot of that when you’re a twenty something as well, but also trying to figure out your place in the world and I reckon there’s some really interesting tension there (and we all know tension is a great foundation for a book!).

From people I’ve talked to though, this seems to be something that we’re crying out for, when I did a post on 20 something bloggers in the book community, everyone I talked to said they’d love to see more characters in their twenties. And I’m sure that people in their late teens would love to see University-set stories, because it would prepare them for going. If anything, I’ve found out more about myself in the three years that I’ve been at Uni than I did during most of my teen years.

Twenty somethings are notorious for being painted in the media as a generation who refuse to grow up, but how can we grow up when we’re being forgotten about and neglected by the books we read? In a year when we’ve been talking so much about representation and having characters in books we can relate to, we should be pushing for that for all age groups. Yes it’s important for teens of colour, LGBTQA+ teens, disabled teens, neurodivergent teens, teens with mental illnesses to have characters that represent them in books, but isn’t it also important than when those teens grow up, they can still see characters of their own ages representing them in books? Because that does not seem to be happening right now. Mental illness among university students is extremely high, it seems to me that not talking about this in books is a missed opportunity to potentially help someone.

Life doesn’t stop after you finish high school/sixth form. In fact if anything, the teen years are just the start of your story. Your twenties are just as turbulent, if not more so than your teens and emerging into adulthood is really hard. It would be wonderful if we could have books, in a variety of genres, that reflect this. No matter what year, or world a book is set in, twenty somethings have struggles that are unique to them and it’s not enough to have books of people close in age to us. Yes, plenty of us can still relate to YA, but it would be lovely to have books that reflected our changing experiences more closely. Considering that a large majority of book bloggers are in their twenties, it seems like publishers could really be missing a trick by neglecting books about characters of our age group.

What do you think? Do you think we need more stories centring around people in their twenties? What would you like to see in that sort of story, would you prefer a more realistic take, a fantastical one, a historical one, a thriller? What can we do to help push those books with twenty something protagonists that do exist (and do you have any recommendations for me?). Let me know in the comments!

I should have another discussion post for you guys at the end of the month, although I don’t know what on yet. If there is anything that you would like to see me talk about then let me know. In the meantime, I will have a new Top Ten Tuesday for you guys tomorrow!



6 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Needing More Books Featuring Twenty Something Protagonists

  1. Sionna (Books in Her Eyes) 12/03/2018 / 6:10 pm

    I find that many adult fantasy books I’ve enjoyed, the main protagonist is actually in their almost mid-twenties, so that has been a surprise to realize. The weird thing is, I feel NA is only for romance novels featuring that age group and everything else is just considered adult, so we have to search and search for those younger adult protags.
    There is totally a gap about college aged people though! I would have loved to read about college students doing things in Uni or trying to survive, balancing a full course load, and internship, and a job. Let’s get some more realistic fiction for those in their early to mid 20s!

    • iloveheartlandx 12/03/2018 / 6:51 pm

      I mean I’ll admit, I’m still kind of dipping my toe into adult fantasy, so I’m not entirely sure of everything that is out there yet. Oh you’re definitely right there, everything in NA seems to be romance and it is hard to search for younger adult protags that aren’t in a romance story. There really is! Yes so would I, because it’s freakin’ hard and I would love to see more fiction for people in their early to mid 20’s come through in the next few years.

  2. Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts 13/03/2018 / 4:15 am

    I completely agree with this, Jo! I turned 20 about six months ago (my coblogger Lupe not long after), and we’re both clueless because we learn from the books that we read (yet we stick to YA because the characters are more relatable than an adult character that is in their 30s and have settled down while we struggle with adulting). I remember New Adult taking off a few years ago, but after a little while, it just slowly died out for some reason. I’m usually hesitant reading New Adult because like you said, romance is HUGE within that age group and I just don’t feel NA should be that way? Isn’t New Adult that gap between YA and Adult?

    Hopefully, this changes sometime in the future though. ^_^

    • iloveheartlandx 14/03/2018 / 9:55 pm

      Thanks! Ha ha yeah exactly, we go into our twenties completely unprepared without any books that cover our experiences. I think there just wasn’t enough support of NA at the time, and so it died out. Yes, it is, and I’m like, that’s not all that your twenties are about? It’s meant to be yeah, but I don’t think it’s really fulfulling that at the moment. Hopefully!

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