So there’s some debate as to whether new adult is actually a legit thing or not, as the term was only coined in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press in order to market books that were a kind of older YA or books with characters who were from the ages of 18-25, going through stuff like university/college, figuring out their sexuality, deciding on career choices, and moving out of their parents’ houses. Some might say new adult is YA but with explicit sex. But I say who cares about legitimacy anyway. There are real people aged 18-25 who might want to read about people going through the same things they are, and there are maybe even older people—like me—who find it fun to go back and relive their early twenties (and the gratefully return to their early thirties). So here are five queer Canadian books that we could call “new adult.”
Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall
Bottle Rocket Hearts is about the journey of 19-year-old Montreal Anglophone, Eve, in her first year of university and learning about queer, feminist, and language politics for the first time. Along the way she earns a bit of street cred from attending many a protest and getting her heart broken by an older Francophone dyke. The novel is chock full of Whittall’s dark, witty humour: Eve tells us things like “Intellectually, non-monogamy made complete sense; emotionally, it felt like sandpaper across my eyelids.” It’s also a nostalgic snapshot of 90s Montreal smack in the middle of the Riot Grrl era and the province of Quebec’s referendum about whether to separate from the rest of the country. Take this wild ride of newly discovered adult freedoms with none of the responsibilities with Eve as she rides her bike down Rue St. Catherine, wearing silver spray-painted Doc Martens and listening to the new Luscious Jackson CD. Check out my full review here.
Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica
You might find it surprising to hear that I’m calling this portal fantasy novel a new adult book, but hear me out. Child of a Hidden Sea—by Toronto queer author A.M. Dellamonica, who wrote a great bisexual magical book called Indigo Springs that could also be classified as new adult—features a 24-year-old main character. So protagonist Sophie Han is the right age, and I think, also going through some of those adult growing pains. They just happen to be taking place in Stormwrack, a series of island nations with strange cultures, economies, and languages that Sophie stumbled into from a back alley in San Francisco. Somehow, everyone there seems to know who she is. But they also don’t like her. Why does everyone know her? What is her purpose in this world? Does she want to stay? Sounds just like what anyone in their early twenties is trying to figure out, but in a super cool magical setting, am I right?
(You) Set Me on Fire by Mariko Tamaki
Allison Lee is technically 17 when this book opens, but whatever. Allison starts off her first year of college, hoping to never be burned—literally or figuratively—again after accidentally setting herself on fire in a ceremonial backyard burning of items associated with her high school ex-girlfriend. Allison is hoping college is gonna be the fresh start she needs to shed her loser status. She’d also like to make some friends, and maybe (?) even find a girlfriend. (Allison thinks she might be a lesbian, but she isn’t sure). When Allison meets Shar on her first night in res—Allison helps Shar find the lighter she’s drunkenly searching for in the grass by spotting it in a pile of puke—you know Shar is bad news. (By the way, true to many first year university experiences, there’s a lot of drinking and puking in this book). Is Allison gonna get burned again? Or maybe the question is: how badly? Check out my full review.
The Skin Beneath by Nairne Holtz
Sam is the quintessential 90s new adult who’s a bit lost and not sure what to do with her life. She’s been living in Montreal, taking university classes but never actually getting a degree. Her butch / androgynous look prevents her from getting some of the more lucrative jobs you can get without a degree, but she eventually gets a job dishwashing at a restaurant where her older sister Chloe used to work. She gets some direction in her life when she receives a mysterious postcard indicating that Chloe’s death five years ago wasn’t the accidental drug overdose at a bohemian New York Hotel as she was told it was. This leads her on a road trip following a trail of clues from Montreal to Detroit to New York, where, as is usual in road trips in books/movies, she finds a bit of herself.
Girl Unwrapped by Gabriella Goliger
This coming-of-age novel is kind of half new adult, meaning that half of it takes place when the main character is a kid and younger teen, and half of it takes place as she strikes out on her own, continuing until she’s 25. Set in the 50s and 60s in Montreal, Girl Unwrapped tells the story of Toni Goldblatt, a tomboy dyke whose lesbian sexuality and butch gender expression conflicts with her parents’ expectations. It only makes matters worse that she’s an only child and her Jewish, Holocaust-scarred parents have especially high hopes for her life. Wanting to reinvent herself, she follows Zionism to Israel in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day war, but it’s not until she returns to Montreal and finds the 60s butch/femme bar scene that she really finds out who she is. Not only does she understand herself, she comes to an understanding of her parents too.