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Are your teens ready for New Adult fiction?

Updated: February 17, 2013 6:09AM

Young Adult fiction has become wildly popular in the last few years among teens and adults alike. The crossover success of books such as Twilight, Hunger Games and Beautiful Creatures have shown publishers that people of all ages enjoy reading these tales of romance and fantasy, and writers and publishers have responded to fans by producing new YA fiction by the droves.

In fact, this crossover popularity has led to the creation of a new category of YA fiction. It’s called New Adult fiction, and while many of the themes of the books are the same (romantic and angst-ridden coming-of-age tales), the stories feature slightly older characters as well as more mature story lines.

The genre is geared toward readers ages 18 to 25, and while some New Adult stories feature high schoolers (as trilogies such as

Twilight do), the heroes and heroines are “of age,” which is important because New Adult fiction often has much steamier plot lines than traditional young adult fiction.

The mature plot lines are appealing for many reasons. It speaks to the older readers who are well past their high school years and who want a little more passion and sexuality in their characters’ relationship, and it also speaks to the natural curiosity that teens have about having sex and losing their virginity. (Many of New Adult fiction, such as Cora Carmack’s Losing It, involve a young heroine making the choice to lose her virginity and the difficulties and emotions that arise due to the decision).

However, many parents and teachers are not comfortable with mature plot lines in young adult fiction, even if it is placed in the category of New Adult. And, it is important to make sure that the content is separated from traditional YA in school libraries and bookstores alike, because it is far from the usual content on those shelves. Generally speaking, the content probably will be too mature for younger teens, so it might be a good to set boundaries around this material (and to lock away your copy of

Fifty Shades of Grey if necessary!).

If your teen is older and you might consider allowing them to read new adult fiction, here are some things to consider ahead of time:

Read the books before you offer permission: Take some time to flip through the book before allowing your child to dive in. Go online and read some reviews if you don’t have time to read the book (but you might end up enjoying it more than you think!).

If you think the book is appropriate reading but you want to monitor its impact on your teen, you could consider having a “book club” in which you each read it and share thoughts about the characters and the plot. It can be a good way to initiate those sometimes uncomfortable conversations about sex with your teen and it can strengthen the bond between you.

Consider the pros and cons. Previous generations were helped through the difficulties of adolescence through legendary books penned by Judy Blume, and today’s teens have the same questions and concerns that their parents did.

Reading a book that features a heroine who is similar in age with similar fears and desires regarding love and sex can help teens to know that they are not alone. It can help normalize and explain certain aspects of sexuality that they might not be comfortable talking to their parents about. As such, it can be a positive influence, particularly as many heroines of New Adult fiction postpone sex until they are in a committed, loving relationship and until they are emotionally mature enough to handle the decision.

When it comes to New Adult fiction, I think older teens could benefit from reading honest and relatable accounts about first love and losing one’s virginity, but age should be considered: Teens over age 16 are probably ready for these books, but younger teens probably should wait and stick with traditional YA material.

Most importantly, whether you allow your teens to read New Adult fiction or not, make sure that you are keeping the communication lines open. Use topics such as these as teachable moments to help your teen answer any questions he or she might have, and remember that nothing is more important or influential than the messages and the information you give your teen about love and sex. Your role as a parent is more important than any book, and you can be a positive force in helping them to make smart, healthy decisions about sex throughout their lives.

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of

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