Blog – Posted on Friday, Sep 04
A Guide to New Adult Books: 20 Titles to Get You Started
In 2009, St. Martin’s Press announced a contest for “new adult” manuscripts — cutting-edge stories that take college-age protagonists and walk them through the gauntlet of growing up. The resulting submissions read like young adult, but aged up: hotter romances, grittier plot-lines, characters grappling with college stress, career transitions, and all manner of first times. And thus, a new genre was born.
Like YA, new adult (or NA) is fundamentally about coming of age, though it looks at what happens after the messiness of adolescence. Unlike their young adult counterparts, NA protagonists have left childhood in the rearview mirror. But that doesn’t mean they feel like full-fledged grownups just yet. As NA writer Cora Carmack puts it, “New adult is the ‘I’m officially an adult, now what?’ phase.”
Carmack and her fellow genre superstars tend to pen sleek, steamy collegiate romances that feel destined for the big screen. Cardigan-clad ingenues fall for tattooed heartthrobs over econ problem sets or dorm-room shenanigans — you can practically hear the TSwift-forward soundtrack.
But NA isn’t all about coed love stories. Within this vibrant genre, you’ll find edgy urban fantasies, heart-wrenching historical fiction, and soft-focus magical realism. And the books that do play the “college girl meets college boy” trope straight will make the formula feel exciting again with their compelling characters — not to mention a few love scenes guaranteed to make your blood run hot.
Feeling intrigued? Then let’s get started with these 20 wildly popular new adult books.
1. All of You by Christina Lee
Avery Michaels has never been interested in dating — which makes sense, given her mom’s string of terrible ex-boyfriends. Instead of love, she’s focused on her nursing studies, with the occasional hookup when she wants to have a little fun. But all that changes when she meets Bennett. He’s hot, tattooed — and a virgin. Unfortunately for Avery, he’s not interested in changing that last part unless she’s willing to try something truly brazen: a relationship. With steamy love scenes and likeable reads, All of You is a delectable, escapist treat.
2. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
Originally a self-published hit, Beautiful Disaster wound up in Simon & Schuster’s catalogue after a stint on the New York Times Best Seller list. At its center is Abby Abernathy, a once-troubled teen hoping for a fresh start in college. Unfortunately, resident bad-boy Travis Maddox won’t make it easy for her. With his streetwise charisma and breathtaking looks, Travis threatens to tempt Abby off the virtuous path of chastity and cardigans. Will she end up falling for him, against her own better judgment?
3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This gripping World War II novel kicks off when a young British spy crash-lands right in the middle of enemy territory. When “Verity’s” plane goes down over Nazi-occupied France, her pilot — and best friend — Maddie manages to escape. But Verity isn’t so lucky: she ends up a prisoner of the Gestapo. Held in an abandoned hotel, she’s forced to write a confession detailing her part in the Allied war effort. As rigorously researched as it is emotionally devastating, Code Name Verity is a historical tour de force.
4. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
When savvy readers think “new adult fantasy,” A Court of Thorns and Roses might just be the first book that comes to mind. This darkly sexy tale, which remixes “Beauty and the Beast” with the Scottish legend of Tam Lin, introduces us to the teenage huntress Feyre Acheron. After killing a wolf that turns out to be a faerie in disguise, she winds up as a prisoner of the High Lord Tamlin, a bestial figure who hides his green-eyed countenance behind a mask. In true fairy tale form, Feyre’s resentment of her captor warps into something like love. But before they can have their happily ever after, she must dispel that curse that shadows Tamlin and his court.
5. The Deal by Elle Kennedy
Hannah Wells and Garrett Graham make an odd pair. She’s a snarky bookworm who's never been in love, and he’s a puck-shooting bad boy who never sleeps alone. They’ve only come together thanks to a cold-blooded transaction: Hannah will tutor Garrett so he can skate by academically, moving on from studies he doesn’t care about to his pro hockey career. In exchange, he’ll make her crush jealous with a carefully calculated fake dating gambit. It’s a clear-cut, mutually beneficial deal… until an unexpected kiss changes everything.
6. Easy by Tammara Webber
This steamy collegiate romance helped define NA’s penchant for tortured protagonists, rollercoaster relationships, and grown-up grit. Easy’s narrator, Jacqueline, has always been willing to sacrifice for her relationship — she even set aside her music school dreams to join her high-school boyfriend at an in-state college. Of course, he decides he wants to see other people. Heartbroken, Jackie can’t bring herself to go to the econ class she’s taking with her ex. Then a quiet classmate saves her from a sexual assault. A brooding figure with a deceptively sharp mind, Lucas is nothing like Jackie’s ex. With him by her side, can she find the strength to stand on her own?
7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Identical twins Cath and Wren grew up together in the Simon Snow fandom — reading and rereading the series, writing fanfiction, donning elaborate costumes for midnight premieres. But now that they’re heading off to college, Wren is ready to put her fangirl days behind her in favor of new friends and college parties. That leaves Cath alone with her social anxiety — prompting a deeper retreat into the Simon Snow universe. Written by the author of Eleanor and Park, Fangirl is a charming, relatable look at mental health, family bonds, and the magic of fandom.
8. The Impact of You by Kendall Ryan
This sexy bestseller helped cement Kendall Ryan’s reputation as a NA superstar, a collegiate romance maven with a legion of devoted fans. The sizzling chemistry in The Impact of You will show you exactly why she enjoys so much hype. At first glance, Avery and Jase seem like a classic case of “opposites attract”. She’s a quiet virgin who keeps to herself, and he’s a hard-living staple of the frat party scene. But they’re bound together by the darkness of their pasts — for better or worse. You see, Avery has striven to leave her painful history behind. But Jase decides he’d rather help her through her trauma than confront his own.
9. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
As far as NA hits go, Lily and the Octopus is a bit of an outlier. For one thing, the relationship at its heart isn’t a torrid romance between a cardigan-clad freshman and her sexy tattooed beau. Instead, this quirky, magical realist confection of a novel centers on the love between man and man’s best friend. Writer Ted Flask and his dachshund Lily have done everything together for the past twelve years. But now, she has a brain tumor, an “octopus” clinging to the back of her eye. Based on Steven Rowley’s own bond with his beloved dog, this unconventional love story is a triumph of emotional modulation, at once riotously funny and deeply sad.
10. Losing It by Cora Carmack
Bliss Edwards might have seven semesters of drama school under her belt, but she’s never had sex. That’s why she’s committed to finally “losing it” in the most efficient way possible. Unfortunately, her first one-night stand doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. When she shows up for class on the first day of her senior spring, Bliss is horrified to recognize her professor: the last time she saw him, he was naked in her bed. As her beloved Shakespeare would say, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
11. One and Only by Viv Daniels
YA stalwart Diana Peterfreund also writes sexy collegiate romances under a pen name. One and Only opens her popular Canton series, which offers all the sweeping intensity fans expect from the Viv Daniels brand. When Tess McMann earns a scholarship to the prestigious Canton College, it seems like the perfect opportunity to escape her troubled past. There, she reunites with Dylan Kingsley, an old summer love whose keen wit and smoldering grin still make her heart beat fast. There’s just one problem: Dylan has a girlfriend now. What’s worse, she happens to be Tess’s half-sister — the cherished daughter of a father who won’t give Tess the time of day.
12. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This witty LGBT romance takes new relationship shenanigans to the world stage. The White House’s resident prince, Alex Claremont-Diaz, hasn’t always gotten along with Henry Mountchristen-Windsor, the actual prince he tussled with at a paparazzi-plagued royal wedding. That’s why he’s been forced to make nice with Henry for the cameras. But as Alex and Henry play up their “bond” in front of an adoring press, their staged friendship turns into real passion. As far as inventive NA love stories go, Red, White & Royal Blue takes the crown.
13. Slammed by Colleen Hoover
In this heart-wrenching romance, poetry slams offer Layken Cohen a refuge from her less-than-perfect senior year: she’s starting over in a whole new state after her father’s death. Luckily, her cute new neighbor Will is there to show her everything Ypsilanti, Michigan has to offer. Before long, they’re going out to poetry clubs, unable to deny their mutual attraction. When the school year starts, though, Layken is “slammed” by a nasty surprise: she walks into class only to lock eyes with her new poetry teacher — Will.
14. Social Skills by Sara Alva
Social Skills is an understated love story with nuanced characterization and a subtle, elegant literary voice. Its protagonist, Connor Owens, has a tendency to get tongue-tied, especially around cute boys. What he lacks in social skills, though, he makes up for in musical virtuosity: his violin says everything he can’t manage to express in words. That starts to change when he meets Jared, a smooth-talking football player who gets under Connor’s skin. Can things really work out between two people so different — especially if neither of them is exactly out yet?
15. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danier
This gorgeously written bestseller was one of 2016’s most anticipated titles. Sweetbitter mixes a heart-rending bildungsroman with a richly textured look at New York’s Michelin-starred restaurant scene. The result? A culinary coming-of-age tale that’s sure to hit the spot. It’s narrated by twenty-two year old Tess, who harbored dreams of New York long before she arrived from Ohio. She’s got no connections and no credentials to her name, but she manages to snag a backwaiter gig at a glitzy Manhattan restaurant. There, Tess gets a hands-on education in fine dining, unrequited love, and other rarefied tastes.
16. The Sound of Us by Ash Poston
If you like your new adult fiction with more spunk than grit, add The Sound of Us to your TBR. This spun-sugar romance is the perfect way to while away a lazy afternoon. When Junie Baltimore learns that Roman Holiday is breaking up, she couldn’t care less: pop fans throughout the country might be crying their eyes out, but she’s always been more of a rock-n-roll girl. When she runs into the band’s former lead singer on the beach, though, they turn out to have more in common than she ever expected. Now, if only the paparazzi would leave them alone…
17. Sunshine by Robin McKinley
For fans of children’s fantasy, Robin McKinley is just about a household name. In Sunshine, though, she tackles more grown-up fare, to spellbinding — and sometimes blood-draining — effect. Set in an alternate universe plagued by black magic, this darkly fascinating story centers on Rae Seddon, a pastry chef with long-submerged supernatural abilities. Unfortunately for her, tapping into those powers now is kind of do-or-die: she’s just been kidnapped by vampires. Imprisoned in an abandoned manor, Rae is forced to work with her fellow abductee, a vampire from a rival gang with a strange allure.
18. Unteachable by Leah Raeder
When Maise O’Malley meets a cute stranger at a summer carnival, she’s not looking for anything but a night of fun. Still, there’s something about Evan that she just can’t stop thinking about: it’s like he saw right through her tough-talking facade. In true NA romance fashion, the start of the school year brings a nasty shock — guess who’s teaching her film class? Maise and Evan — or rather, Mr. Wilke — have no choice but to stay away from each other. But not even saintly self-control can stop the rumors from spreading. Passionate and provocative, Unteachable offers a no-holds-barred look at a relationship with soaring highs and catastrophic lows.
19. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Any Shakespeare fans here? What about 10 Things I Hate about You? Either way, Vinegar Girl is for you — this witty romcom reimagines The Taming of the Shrew. College dropout Kate Battista finds herself facing a challenge she never anticipated: an arranged marriage. On the verge of a major breakthrough, her biochemist father has encountered a setback: his Russian lab assistant, Pyotr, is running out of time on his student visa. To keep him in the country, Dr. Battista devises a madcap scheme: a sham marriage between his protégé and his daughter. Kate is less than thrilled with this plan, at least at first. But something about the quietly brilliant Pyotr tugs at her heartstrings. Maybe it’s the fact that he has no interest in “taming” her at all.
20. Wait for You by Jennifer L. Armentrout
One of new adult’s biggest and most versatile talents, Jennifer L. Armentrout has topped bestseller lists with her fantasy and contemporary romances alike. Wait for It falls squarely into the latter category: it’s a collegiate love story with swoon-worthy leads, whip-smart banter, and a fast-moving, thriller-inflected plot. When college freshman Avery Morgansten starts to fall for local heartthrob Cameron Hamilton, she knows she’s in trouble. She’s still haunted by a traumatic Halloween party from five years ago, and blue-eyed, dimpled distractions like Cam make it hard to keep it together. That’s before you add in the threatening phone calls she’s been fielding… Will the two keep bonding over astronomy class, or will Avery’s past keep them apart?
Have you developed a taste for swoonworthy love stories? Why not check out our roundup of the 25 hottest romance authors and their steamiest works?