Why I Want More YA Novels Set in University
Guest Post: Sarah Robinson-Hatch
Since starting university, I’ve noticed something about YA fiction — there are hardly any books set where characters are in uni. Off the top of my head, I can think of two: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar. There is debate around whether books set at university, or college, are classified as Young Adult or New Adult. All throughout high school, I wanted to read books set in high school because I love reading about things I can relate to and that I’m currently experiencing. But now that I’ve finished year twelve and I’ve started higher education, I want to read novels that reflect this new phase of my life. Problem is, it’s proving difficult to find the right type of NA novel for me.
If you haven’t heard of NA before, it’s basically a category of books that are aimed at people between the ages of eighteen and thirty, give or take a few years (though obviously, anyone can read them if they want to). The main themes of these novels are often relationships and sometimes even having children, though we’re starting to see different genres in NA now, too. However, I’m not really interested in a lot of those topics at this point in my life. Why can’t I seem to find an NA novel with YA vibes — basically a high school contemporary story, but set at university? Why don’t any of these novels seem to contain the same innocence of first relationships, like YA, or explore the same themes of not knowing where you’re heading in life? Why can’t more YA books just be set at uni?
Because people in university are older and dealing with different issues! I hear you yell from the back. Well, actually, I’m the same age as I was during my last year of high school, and I’m still in the same relationship I was in as well. Sure, I may have made one decision about what course I want to study, but besides that, I don’t know where I’m going in life either. And a major theme in contemporary YA is that idea of not knowing and also where you fit in with the world, and therefore it would make sense to have more novels that reflect this first couple of years of university. Besides, I’m still in the suggested age of YA! I’m eighteen, you can’t kick me out yet! I just want more stories to reflect the place I am at in life.
Something NA is often notorious for is being more relationship-driven, but I’m not really interested in that kind of narrative. I don’t read a lot of pure romance YA novels, but rather ones where the love interest plays a lesser role in a greater story. I don’t just want to read about relationship drama — I want to read about fitting in and first loves and part-time work and travelling and friendship. Basically, I want a YA high school narrative with that little bit more freedom, but otherwise, all other aspects remaining the same. Call it absurd, but I don’t want to venture into a whole new category of reading to find the stories that live in the fine line between YA and NA. And often, the line between these two age categories is very, very fine.
That’s not to say I don’t still adore YA fiction set in the high school environment. I love reading about people figuring out their lives in high school and experiencing their first relationships and working out where they’re headed, because those are themes that I still connect with, even after starting university. If an author is writing about an eighteen-year-old character in first year university, should that be considered NA or YA? Or both? The book world can be a scary place sometimes, and YA is my sanctuary. Yes, I’d rather the university stories come to me rather than have to venture out into the big wide world that is the other shelf in the bookstore, but is that so much to ask?
Ultimately, I don’t think YA stories should end the moment one graduates from high school, or before they start university. The issues that young people are dealing with in university are often the same as that of high school students, and being a few months older shouldn’t drastically change those narratives.
But what do you think? Do you read much NA? Do you think more YA should be set in university? What existing YA stories are set in college? I’d love to hear your thoughts!