Where Are All The Books For Twenty-Somethings?

In the midst of all of the great YA and adult books I’ve been reading lately, for some reason, I’ve felt a nagging feeling that something was missing. Of course, I’m enjoying the books I’m reading, but I’ve been longing for a book that I can’t seem to find…a genre of books that I’m not even sure exists at the moment. And if it does, it’s certainly not getting the attention it deserves. Finally I figured it out. I want to read a book about someone who I can 100 percent relate to. I want to read a book about a girl in her 20’s trying to figure out where she fits in in the world. This got me thinking, where are all the books for twenty-somethings?

While I love YA books and adult books, I can’t help but feel like an entire demographic is missing. I’ve yet to come across a really great book about someone in their 20’s dealing with the issues twenty-somethings deal with; their first couple of years out of college, starting their first real jobs, finding an apartment, dealing with issues of drifting friendships, relationships starting to get serious…the list goes on and on.

Of course, I’m clearly sensitive to this issue since I am 23 years old. Smack in the middle of YA books and adult books. Not quite in high school anymore, but not quite ready to get married and have babies. In most of the books I’ve read lately, the characters are either in high school or are in their late 20’s, early 30’s or even 40’s. Where are the people in their 20’s? Hiding out until their 30’s?

Sometimes I wonder if YA is really the right classification for books that are written for this target demographic. Even though readers of all ages can enjoy YA novels, I’d almost go out on a limb to suggest that YA novels could be classified as teen novels. After all, according to the American Library Association, main characters in YA novels are ages 12-18. I hardly considered myself a young adult when I was between the ages of 12-12. In fact, I probably didn’t consider myself a young adult until I hit 20 or 21.

However, the name of the genre isn’t the problem. The genre doesn’t need a proper name because in my opinion, it doesn’t currently exist. I can name exactly ONE book that I’ve read where the main character was a college student (and I won’t even name the book because I couldn’t finish it).  This is a problem. Many of us turn to books because we’re looking to relate to someone, anyone, who we can relate to. An entire group of people (a group notoriously in the news for never wanting to grow up) is being neglected. We could probably benefit from books about people like us.

Of course, I selfishly hope for books for twenty-somethings to benefit me and my fellow twenty-somethings, but also, I think there’s a huge opportunity for publishing companies and authors to reach a new target audience. A target audience who likely has time to read for pleasure and money to spend on books! When I was in college, I definitely read for pleasure, but I find myself reading way more now that I don’t have required reading for school or textbooks to sift through each night. I also find many of my friends asking me for more book recommendations now than when we were in college. It could be a great opportunity to invest in a different audience with unique interests, goals and personalities.

What do you think? Where are all the books for twenty-somethings? Would you be interested in reading books about people in their 20’s?


66 thoughts on “Where Are All The Books For Twenty-Somethings?”

  1. Girl, they’re hiding in Australia because they’re the only ones daring enough to publish beautiful 20-something year old lit. Raw Blue is a prime example. I’m convinced I need to relocate again haha

    1. @Melissa, I can strongly disagree with this comment as an Aussie book-loving fanatic, sorry to say I don’t see no awesomely twenty-something books around here :S

    2. @Melissa,

      Two other Aussie 20’s books I love are The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta and Holier than Thou by Laura Buzo.
      But I’d really love more books for 20’s readers.

  2. I suppose I’m at an age (almost 26) where I don’t really read because of the age of someone in the book. I don’t really mind if a character is older or younger than me, so I tend to read what I think is defined as “literary fiction.” Sometimes the main characters are teenagers (like the book I’m reading right now, the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) but it’s very much an adult book (drugs, sex, war). Other times, the narrator is older than me. Sometimes I find books where the character is my age, but I think for me, the older I get, themes and plot because a lot more important than demographics.

    But I do agree, there don’t seem to be many books targeted for the 20somethings. Maybe it’s because we’re not a demo that has heavy readership?

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Allison Blass, I think you’re right, but I do think it’s unfortunate. Perhaps people would read more if there were books out there that they felt they could intimately relate to.

  3. I know what you mean. I like reading YA and I like reading adult books but I would also like to read about characters my own age. It’s really hard to find books about people in their 20’s. I read somewhere that a lot of publishers don’t like to publish for that age group because they’re usually in university/college/beginning work and so they don’t want to read but I would definitely disagree with that.

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Rebecca, I think I read that somewhere too, but I can’t remember where now. I wanted to link to it in this post. I totally get it, but I think it’s a pretty big generalization to assume that all college students/young adults don’t read. It could go around and around in circles forever, but maybe people don’t read because they don’t have a book to identify with.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  4. I see that gap too, which is why I write for it! No life stage has ever captured my imagination quite so much as the awful uncertainty and strangeness that goes with our 20s.

    If you find any good ones, let me know!

    Btw, I don’t know if this is the book you couldn’t finish, but if it’s not, The Scret History by Donna Tartt deals with identity formation in college students and I absolutely love it 🙂

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Ellen Brickley, That’s so awesome that you are writing for 20 somethings! I have toyed around with the idea of doing the same thing.

      No, that wasn’t the book I couldn’t finish, so thank you for the recommendation!

  5. Well, since 20 somethings are adults, I would have to say that this would be more a sub-genre of adult books rather than a separate category. And you can find them out there, you just have to search for them by key word rather than genre. For example, I did a subject keyword search for “college students” in my public library’s catalog and got back a whole list of books about college students with subjects like “women college students – fiction” and “college students – Georgia – fiction”. You can also use terms like “young women” and “young men” to find books about this age group. I do agree that “young adult” is a better term for 20 somethings than for teenagers, though.

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Julie @ Read Handed, Great point about 20 somethings being considered adults. That’s very true!

      Another good point about searching more creatively. I will definitely try that out. Thank you!

  6. I know what you mean exactly! Like I’ve said before, I read lots of YA, but sometimes it’s like, okay where are books for me?! I venture into “grown up” books sometimes, but usually the characters are married or engaged, pregnant, have a job or are getting fired from one, etc. I just wanna read a REAL book about something that a 23-25 year old would do.. Although these comments have given me a few starting points, hopefully I can find something good! lol

  7. I definitely agree with you. About a year ago one publishing house (I think it was St. Martin’s Press) toyed around with the idea of creating a New Adult (NA) genre for people in college or just starting out after college. I haven’t seen these books around, so I guess they didn’t catch on.

    It seems possible that the main reason these books are not out there is because bookstores and libraries have no idea where to shelve them. There’s YA and adult, but nothing in between! Because of this, publishers aren’t as likely to buy a book if they’re unclear where it would be shelved in a store. And therefore … author’s are unsure if it’s worth it to take the risk to write for a genre that doesn’t exist yet. It’s a circle that’s hard to break.

    But like you, I think it would be great to read about characters who are more around my age 🙂

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Michelle Madow, Awesome points, Michelle! And thank you for pointing out that it was St. Martin’s Press; I knew I had read that somewhere. It’s a shame it didn’t pan out…yet! Who knows? Maybe it’s still on the horizon!

  8. It’s a great question! I’m 22 and in grad school right now. I could definitely read some 20ish books. But I would guess 20ish people are busy with their life that they hardly have the time to sit down and write about it? It’s kind of a transition period in one’s life, full of uncertainties.

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Yiye, It definitely is a transition, but that’s why I feel it’s so important that SOMEONE documents it, even if it’s after the fact. After all, many YA authors are adults themselves. But they write YA novels remembering their own experiences.

  9. I think you make some good points here, but I also agree with Julie @ Read Handed. A little creative searching might yield more results.

    A few recommendations, because that’s what I do: try Aryn Kyle’s Boys and Girls Like You and Me. It’s a collection of short stories, but a few of them feature girls in their twenties who are definitely searching.

    The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares features girls in their early twenties. I love that one like a lot.

    Also, I’m super-curious to know what college-themed book you couldn’t finish.

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Clementine Bojangles, Thanks so much for the recommendations, Clementine!

      I’ll give you a hint about what book I couldn’t finish. It’s by the same author who wrote the books that were made into a wildly popular TV show on the CW 🙂

      1. @Jessica Lawlor,

        Was it Cum laude?

        That book was torture.

        I too am a 20 year old. recently transferred to a new college and need some books for my breaks at home! Do not get me wrong. I loved the days of teen and YA novels that give you butterflies. But 20 something year old love and mistakes and life is much different.

  10. I hear ya! 🙂 I just turned 26, and often find myself trying to find books that speak to me – where I am right now. I second Clementine’s suggestion of ‘The Last Summer (of You and Me)’, and also – I just finished (review is almost ready to go up!) ‘The Little Women Letters’ by Gabrielle Donnelly…the main character is a girl who’s 25 and trying to find her niche, herself, and make sense of her world. Totally. Awesome.

    I’m hoping there are more out there, and it’s just a matter of finding them…I am noticing more books that are college-y, so maybe authors are starting to grow with us? 🙂

  11. Hear, hear! I definitely want more books written for and about college-aged people. Like Michelle I heard about St. Martin’s idea for a line of books for “new adults” a while back, but I haven’t heard anything more about them, unfortunately. It seems like readers in their early 20’s are expected to make the leap from YA to adult fiction with no bridge in between. Hardly seems fair! Fiction for adults frequently deals with problems involving children or midlife crises that 20-year-olds just aren’t facing. There’s a major demographic completely off the map here, and I think it does college students a disservice to assume they (as a general rule) won’t/don’t read. Maybe they’re not reading because there’s nothing aimed at them! Anyway, thanks for the post, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this should be remedied 🙂

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Danya, I haven’t heard anything further either, though I applaud St. Martin’s Press for bringing up the topic! It’s good to know that it’s being talked about at all.

      I love what you said about people in their 20’s being forced to make the leap from YA to adult with no bridge. That is the perfect way to describe it.

      Thanks so much for leaving your two cents!

  12. Your post caught my eye because I agree that college-aged fiction is really a missing genre. It is likely because there are no dedicated shelves for this (as another commenter suggested), so publishers aren’t buying and authors aren’t writing for this age group. With the increase of self-publishing, maybe more titles will come out featuring characters in college.

    For me, college was a huge turning point in life, so that’s where I feel most comfortable writing. The heroine in my book is just starting college and I have a feeling that my future books will be centered around those important (and exciting) years between teen and adult.

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @Cyndi Tefft, Hi Cyndi! Thanks for visiting 🙂 You’re right. There are no dedicated shelves, unfortunately.

      College was definitely a turning point in my life- as is right now! It’s something I would LOVE to read about.

      Hope your novel writing is going well!

  13. You are not alone! I was having this exact conversation with my friend just last night. The demographic is sorely under-represented. She did say that the industry genre is “new adult” (which I think is an awful name) and that it’s not taking off as well as everyone thought. Personally, I think a more appropriate genre title would be “Post-Adolescent.” I’m actually just starting to write a series that I would classify as “PA” so perhaps the best way to find the books we want to read are to write them ourselves. Just to get things started.

    Good luck!

    1. Jessica Lawlor

      @E. Elle, So funny that you were having the same conversation with your friend! I’m not sure I like the name “new adult” though I like the fact that people are talking about creating a genre at all!

      Awesome that you’re writing a series classified as new adult or PA! I’d love to hear more about it 🙂 Shoot me an email if you want to discuss more!

  14. SERIOUSLY! So glad you posted about this — do you know how much I want to read books about that age group? Jessica, go write one! Solve this problem! 🙂

  15. I totally agree that they should create a new genre! I’m all about new genres, in fact I myself am writing books that I like to call ‘urban sci-fi’ (though I’m sure when they make it to publishing they’ll be thrown in with all the other ‘YA’ books). Anyways, I have found a few authors who write for multiple target audiences, including the college age group– namely: Janet Evonovich, Meg Cabot, and Jennifer Crusie. You have to sift through them to find the handful targeted towards the ‘real’ YA audience, but they’re there. My biggest complaint is that they all kind of have the same plot:( I can name a few others, but they are of a fantasy genre of one sort or another, not really something any of us normal people can relate to, but entertaining nonetheless. Good luck in your search for good books!

  16. Maeve Binchy wrote two brilliant novels about girls at uni in Ireland- okay, in the fifties! but the reason I mention them is that they feel much more current to me (at 25) than they did when I first read them at 14. “Echoes” and “Circle of Friends,” I guess they would be classified as women’s fiction, & are well worth a read.

      1. @Bee,
        Ah true, they haven’t. They are college-age though, so between teens, and the late-twenties-early-thirties age group, so maybe still of interest? Echoes follows one of the characters out of uni and into…..various life issues I won’t mention cos it’d give away the plot 🙂

  17. AMEN! I’m newly 24 and have been desperately hoping for 20-something books for the past year or so. I feel like I’m in the weirdest part of my life and no one has a clue what it’s like because I have never read a book with a main character in my situation. Every book with a 20-something character has a fabulous job and spends all her time dating and partying with her girlfriends (or at least, all the books I’ve read with 20-somethings). That’s not even on the same continent as my life right now. I know there are lots of 24 year olds married with kids (I think at least half my high school graduating class falls in that category) but that’s not me. I think the 20s are the most diverse in terms of experience: there are college students, parents, wives, husbands, professionals, unemployed, everything! And yet the books out there don’t seem to be covering that. I really wish they did! I need to know I’m not the only 24 year old who realized that her major career field is NOT what she wants to do and is now completely lost!

    1. @katiecoops, Great points! Though I can’t suggest any novels, you might want to check out Twenty Something, Twenty Everything — at the very least, you’ll be comforted knowing you’re not alone!

  18. I’m 21 and I’ve hardly read a book about someone within 20-23 years of age. I did come across this book called Crazy Love where the protagonist was a Paris Hiltonesque 21 year old, and while it was funny and all that, it was like all other chick lit books. You could easily change the protagonist to early 30s and it’d still be believable.
    This is why I prefer reading older YA, although I love all kinds of YA in general. Publishers spoke about introducing the New Adult genre, but I hardly see books belonging to that category.

  19. I would DEFINITELY be interested in reading about 20 somethings, because I think there are as many life changes there in that in-between stage of being a teen and a “Real Adult” (with mortgages , 401ks, and families)so it’s prime novel material. I think many people would love to write in that genre, but are afraid few would publish.

  20. I know what you mean! I’m 26 and love YA. But sometimes it would be nice to read a character that’s going through my life struggles (okay mine are living in my parents garage, working full time but not being able to afford a place of my own, so that’s kinda boring).

    Here are some of the FEW 20something books I’ve found
    1. Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta (sequel to beloved Saving Francesca)
    2. Feed by Mira Grant
    3. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (19, so barely out of YA but living on own)

    Those are the only 3 I can think of off the top of my head and I read a lot.

  21. Here here! Even off the top of my head, most of the novels I can think of that address this are either sci-fi/fantasy. The only realist novels that even come to mind are The Nanny Diaries and the other book written by the same authors.

    Sadly, we have to go back half a century. Richard Yates’ Easter Parade is brilliant, as well as Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

  22. I think this might be why I don’t read too many novels – I haven’t found any about a young, savvy intellectual on some sort of personal quest. Most are unfounded dramatization of minor issues, over-dramatic love problems, and/or about young families – whichever scenario, I find myself disinterested and unable to relate to the characters. Even The Devil Wears Prada was a stretch, but overall I appreciated it for presenting the challenge many 20-somethings face when seeking balance between who we are/were vs. who the workplace expects us to become vs. who we are becoming.

    Great point also, Jess, for pointing out the challenge with the label “Young Adult” – I consider myself as a young adult at 25 – Don’t even try to put a book in front of me labeled YA that’s targeted to a 12 year old! I’m worlds away from who I was at that age.

  23. I just finished the new Jennifer Weiner novel, Then Came You, and 3 of the 4 main characters were in their 20s. I think some of her other books also have characters in that age group. There is also Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan, the novels of Emily Giffin, If you Follow Me by Malena Watrous (which I highly recommend), Joe College by Tom Perrotta….they’re definitely out there, I think it’s just hard to find books based on the age of the characters since there isn’t really a 20-something genre.

  24. I agree so much! I wrote a novel with an 18-yr old character just out of high school, and I’m getting much flak over her age. From what I hear via blogs about agents and publishers, they really don’t want protagonists that don’t fall within specific categories.

    Whenever I hear people talking about some “new adult” category of 20-somethings, it’s usually us writers, wishful-thinking. 🙂

  25. I’ve also wondered why there aren’t any books for my age range and I guess that’s why I cling to YA and hope for the best. Mostly I find anything even slightly close to my age/life to be a totally blah chick-lit novels.

    I guess publishers think the 20-somethings are too busy living their lives to bother buying books? To all those writers out there, don’t you forget about us!

  26. Bit late to this particular discussion, apologies.

    I know of a few Australian novels with twenty-something protagonists.

    Maureen McCarthy ‘Rose By Any Other Name’ (19/20 y.o., female)
    Melina Marchetta ‘The Piper’s Son’ (sequel to ‘Saving Francesca’, 22 y.o., male)
    Bryce Courtenay ‘Tandia’ (sequel to ‘The Power of One’, age ranges from 18-2? y.o., male & female)


  27. I agree Jessica, there does need to be a ‘New Adult’ category, because as you said, “There’s a huge opportunity for publishing companies and authors to reach a new target audience.” Currently, the debate over the New Adult genre has come back into the forefront. I’ve recently written about this topic on my blog, http://wishfulauthor.blogspot.com, and I hope that you don’t mind, but I linked it to your post.

  28. I know I am months behind on this post, but I came acrossed it while googling “books for 20 somethings” this is a topic I have often discussed with my fiancé. I love to read, but get stuck in serious ruts because I don’t always want to read a book about teens or a book about life in your thirties. While they are entertaining, at 23, I want something more. I have found Meg Cabot writes for every age group, but I would love choices! Plus; I always feel a little pathetic looking around the “young adult” section.

  29. Hi everyone! I’m late to this convo but think you’re all right on.

    This is what I, too, have been thinking about for several years now. I am actually writing the book that I desperately wanted to read while going through all the changes of these turbulent twenties. It’s hard to find a book that relates to us in a real way, and I’m set to do it. I’ll post here when my book comes out- it’s a work in progress but getting closer to the publication date. In the meantime, you can all check out my website at http://www.alexissclamberg.com

    I was just on NPR talking about us twentysomethings, and you can access the show on my site.

    Thanks again for writing about this.

  30. I have (after 6 years) just finished my novel, for and about women in their 20s. I hope it doesn’t put literary agents off! I agree there’s definitely a gap in the market.

  31. Came across this essay while researching the fact that this genre doesn’t exist. I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I am 28 now and have spent the last eight years wondering where the books about me are. So much “adult” literature is about middle-aged women going through a divorce or blah blah blah I don’t know what any of this means yet and never will because I’m a guy. I’ve read Harry Potter and the Hunger Games over and over because at least when I read YA I’m reading about someone I’ve already “been.” I still know what it was like to be that age and can put myself in their places. It’s just baffling to me why people haven’t figure out these YA readers GROW UP. That one day we’re in our twenties and nothing makes sense and no one is writing fiction to help us figure it out. That’s why it’s become a passion of mine, especially to write for other twenty-something men who are even more woefully neglected than the ladies I think. People complain because we spend all our time watching TV and playing video games but there’s NOTHING for us to read. That’s why I’m writing a werewolf novel aimed specifically at Generation Y and I don’t care if anybody else older or younger gets it or not. Good luck with your projects and I’m glad to have found your site!

  32. I work with the Millennial Generation Publishing Team at Moody Pulishers and we publish books for the exact demographic you’re describing (20-somethings!) If you’re looking for some books about people your own age going through similar struggles check out Unfriend Yourself (about facebook) by Kyle Tennant , How to Ruin Your Life by 30 (funny yet applicable advice for 20-somethings) by Steve Farrar and The Road Trip (an interesting look at how Kerouac’s On the Road has affected our generation) by Mark Sayers. Also keep an eye out for our August releases: Unseduced and Unshaken by Rosalie de Rosset and Wrecked by Jeff Goins.
    I’m so glad to see our generation (I’m 21 myself) finally speaking up about what they want see in the books they read!

  33. Aloha!

    I feel the same way. In fact, I am in the process of trying to get my trilogy published and the biggest obstacle I am running up against is that the publishers do not feel that 20-30 year old characters belong in YA. I believe that 20-30 is young adult and I know that many of us read that literature but would like to have characters our age to relate to. Anyone who agrees should call/email/contact anyway you can the main publishers and let them know that there is a market.

  34. After writing my first book, an urban fantasy / paranormal romance, I discovered I’d made a major marketing error. My protagonist is 22. That, evidently, is a cardinal sin. The book is entirely inappropriate for readers younger than 17-18 due to subject matter, but it seems no one over 18 (according to the large publishing houses) is interested in reading a coming-of-age novel, even in a fantasy universe. A naive young woman discovering a paranormal heritage needs to either be 16 and only mildly curious about sex, or …

    While you mention wanting books with characters you can relate to, I don’t understand why older readers would be turned off by a good story just because the protagonist is younger than they are. I’m old enough to be Kitness’ or Harry’s parent, but I still read their stories and enjoyed them.

  35. Thank you so much for posting this! I was browsing my local book store for hours today trying to find a book with characters I can relate to! Defeated i came home to do some research and found this blog post. I know you posted this a year ago, but it is still revelant as ever! Good to know i am not the only one looking for something that seemingly doesnt exist.

  36. I know I am over a year late, but this post is perfect.
    I am constantly reading. And am constantly struggling to find new books to read that are targeted towards me.
    I am 21 years old. I’ve read plenty of adult books but I always find myself venturing back to the YA section, and feeling quite lame when doing so. I don’t know if I have just picked up the wrong adult books, but a lot of them seem shallow in content: shopping, the cliche of love lost, love found, etc.
    Whereas, a lot of YA books (think John Green) make me question life and my entire existence and completely blow my mind in general.
    After I read a book that really moves me, I seem to go through ruts. I go months before I can find another book that I just can’t put down. This has happened after I read “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (main character is a child), A Fault in Our Stars (Main Character is in her teens) and The Host (Main character is in her teens).

    p.s. I am a PR major, and I think your whole site is genius. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks so much, Lauren! I love that people are still finding this post and are able to relate to it.

      Don’t feel lame going to the YA section! It’s my favorite section of the book store 🙂 New Adult is definitely a genre I’d like to see more, but I’m happy to have great YA books to lean on in the meantime.

      Good luck with the rest of your PR classes! Let me know if you have any questions about the industry 🙂

  37. Pingback: All About New Adult | Allison Parr

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I live by the saying “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and help others do the same to reach their biggest, brightest goals. Read my story here.

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