Young Adult Fiction (YA) is to New Adult Fiction (NA) as St. Elmo’s Fire (80s movie) is to….

What is “New Adult?” Is it some made-up book category? A publisher-invented title to sell more books?

Perhaps. The history of the genre, beginning with a contest by St. Martins, would suggest it might be so.

But there are subtle differences between New Adult and Young Adult that are actually quite important. How?

Well, I know I’m dating myself here… (well not *dating* myself, as in having a relationship, but dating as in tree rings and half-lives and carbon–well you get the idea) BUT – the other night I was thinking about “New Adult” as a category and I thought of the perfect analogy to put it into context.

You know those “this is to that” SAT questions that drove you nuts in high school? (Ugh – I know I know, I’m dating myself again, because the SAT no longer asks students analogy questions, apparently because, “so many Americans find it difficult to recognize false analogies.” And that’s just sad.)

I have more confidence in you than the writers of the SAT questions, though… I think you can do it!

For those of you who don’t remember the “this is to that” analogies, this is an easy one: “Cat is to kitten as dog is to ______?”

















Boxer Puppy

Did you say Puppy?

Very good! Okay let’s do another one…

Alice is to Wonderland as Harry Potter is to _______?”





















Did you say Hogwarts?

YAY! You can do this!

Okay, so here is my analogy for New Adult fiction!

Young Adult (YA) fiction is to New Adult (NA) fiction as Breakfast Club (80’s movie) is to __________?.
















Did you say St. Elmo’s Fire?

Good job! Do you see what I mean?


Here’s a look at Breakfast Club…. can you spot the differences? 


Okay, fine, for those of you who are still scratching your heads in puzzlement, let me extrapolate for you in this chart:



Young Adult (YA) is to New Adult (NA) as Breakfast Club is to St. Elmo’s Fire

Breakfast Club

(Young Adult)

St. Elmo’s Fire

(New Adult)

Five teenagers show up for Saturday detention in the school library Dependent and restricted by parents and society – 95% of adolescents life at home with at least one parent, 98% aren’t married and under 10% have become parents. More than 95% attend school. Seven friends graduating from college are moving into the “real world” for the first time Freedom and autonomy (often for the first time) This is a time of exploration and looking for a new identity after the strict roles high school imposed
Each character represents a typical high school clique (Geek, Princess/rich, Jock, Weirdo, Criminal/rebel) and all of them identify strongly with that clique.


Each character is defined by either by their parents’ socioeconomic status (i.e. Claire is a “Richie” and John is clearly poor) or by their parent’s wishes for them (i.e. Andrew is a jock/wrestler like his father before him, and is pressured to be like his father)


The world of “working” by the characters themselves is never even discussed.


Defined by stereotypes, peer pressure, the desire to fit in.


Identity formation is happening now so teens identify strongly with their cliques.


Teens are eager and willing to attach and fuse their identities to others (i.e cliques)


Work is only done in adolescence for recreational purposes (i.e. to buy “cool stuff”)

Characters move into the world of work and life.

  • Kirby: waiter
  • Billy: Married father who can’t keep a job, nostalgic for college life
  • Kevin: depressed obituary writer looking for more
  • Jules: works in a bank
  • Alec: Yuppie who wants to enter politics
  • Leslie: Yuppie who wants her own career before kids/family
  • Wendy: From a rich family, altruistic tendencies
No longer defined by the narrow stereotypes of high school – moving into the world of work, or college, or military service.


Negotiating responsibility and autonomy for the first time.


Work becomes a necessity, a means to an end certainly, but also begins to shape and form identity. I’m a “doctor,” or I’m a “lawyer,” or I’m a “waiter.”


Work also becomes a way to identify social standing and begins a new way of defining cliques.


Characters are getting first jobs, going to college, getting married, having kids, finding their way toward financial independence and living away from their families for the first time.

All of the characters talk about their “home life” and what that means to them.

  • Alison (weirdo) says its unsatisfying.
  • Andrew (jock) says his father doesn’t want him to “blow his ride”—his scholarship.
  • John (criminal) depicts his home life as poor and violent.
  • Brian (geek) is clearly under pressure from his parents to get good grades.
  • Claire (princess/rich) talks about the “drama” of her family and how they threaten divorce.

It’s clear that they’re all subject to the home life their parents have raised them in.

Characters decisions are still limited by their parents, and their motivations are still driven by their parents’ wishes. These come in conflict with their own desires and the pressure of their peers to conform their identity within their various cliques. Their decisions have some real world consequences, but most are imposed still by parents and school (i.e. detention for doing “something bad.”) Real world consequences have yet to befall these characters, for the most part. Characters in the movie make choices that have very real-world consequences.


  • Billy gets charged for drunk driving and loses yet another job that Alex lined up for him
  • Alec talks about changing his political affiliation (abandoning his ideals) because the Republicans pay more
  • Jules is stuck looking after her ill stepmother – she calls her “the step-monster”
  • Jules’ drug problem leads to her job loss and her furniture being repossessed


Characters are in that “in between” place, moving out of their home-life with their parents and beginning to make decisions in the “real world.” Characters are beginning to learn that their decisions have “real world” consequences. The danger here is that characters are making choices regarding marriage, family, work and lifestyle before they have the maturity to choose wisely. Mistakes are made, hard lessons learned.


Characters are dealing with bigger issues than when they were adolescents. Sometimes they are the same issues (drug abuse, sexuality, depression, alcohol abuse family struggles etc.) but the consequences are no longer cushioned by a parent.



 Love, Sex and Relationships

Hughes uses love and relationships to bring the adolescent cliques together.


John and Claire pair up.

Andrew and Alison pair up.

The only odd one out is the “geek.”


Doing this shows that teens can transcend their cliquish identities, and foreshadows what will happen in adulthood, as cliques and their importance dissolves in early adulthood.


Virginity is an important factor to the Breakfast Club teens – who has or hasn’t done “it.”


Immature sexual jokes and innuendo are seen as funny.

 Love, Sex and Relationships


During adolescence, dating often goes on during parties or dances. These are “trial” relationships, and partners change often.


Virginity is a focus for teens. Doing it—or not doing it—becomes a central topic of conversation and focus.


Partners are often limited by cliques (this is transcended in Breakfast Club) or by parents’ ideas and wishes (can you imagine Claire’s parents reactions to bringing John Bender home for dinner?)

Love, Sex and Relationships

Love, sex and relationships become very complicated!

  • Alec asks Leslie to marry him, she says no because she wants to have her own career
  • Alec is sleeping around on Leslie
  • Kevin is accused of being gay but he’s just really in love w Leslie
  • Kirby is obsessed with a woman, verging on stalking
  • Wendy is in love with Billy, who’s married, and she’s still a virgin
  • Wendy is slightly chubby and feels unattractive. Her family is rich, and Billy leverages their friendship to ask for money.
  • Billy takes Wendy’s virginity, but doesn’t leave his wife.



Love, Sex and Relationships


Sex is more free—virginity is (usually) no longer a focus for these characters. Most are sexually experienced, to some degree, and are looking for more than “just sex” in a relationship.


Parents still weigh in on partners at this age (in St. Elmo’s Fire, Wendy’s parents try to dissuade her from her crush on Billy) but characters have far more freedom in their choices.


Characters sometimes fall into obsessive relationships (ala Kirby) and sometimes skip from partner to partner (ala Alec).


Characters are entering relationships for the first time that may end up in lifelong commitment.


Commitment becomes a central point of focus. Characters consider marriage and marriage partners. Do I want to be married? Do I want children? What do I want my future to contain?


All the paths are still open to these characters, and much experimentation is taking place.




See! There are important differences between Young Adult fiction and New Adult fiction – they even thought so way back in the 1980’s! 😀



2 Responses to Young Adult Fiction (YA) is to New Adult Fiction (NA) as St. Elmo’s Fire (80s movie) is to….

  1. LOVE this! I agree that NA has always been around and there is such a distinction between the YA/NA. This was a fun and very thoughtful way to point them out!

  2. Love this analogy! Great way to break it down. Thanks for sharing.

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