The emergency of new adult fiction caused quite a stir in the publication world. Some have questioned its need for existence while others have been waiting eagerly for the arrival of such an age bracket.
For author Leah Raeder, while she might be shelved in the young adult section, the new adult label applied to her books has given her space to explore the stories she wants to tell.
“It hits that sweet spot between YA and adult fiction where you’re young enough to be ravenous for life experience, but also old enough to make your own decisions,” said Raeder.
Topics like college and sex can be explored but even more than that, the young adult / new adult crossover label allows for the exploration of queer relationships that straight-on young adult books may not actively discuss.
“It’s not enough to simply have queer characters in books–we need to show them being queer and doing stuff that queer people do,” said Raeder. “Demystifying and normalizing relationships outside the cishet realm is incredibly important.”
The normalization and representation of queer relationships is key not only in the publishing industry, but in the lives of readers. So much of what takes place in Black Iris has been described as “dark” and “taboo,” but the problem with these words lies with the fact that bullying and queerness are not being discussed enough
“When I was a teen, I would’ve killed for books like the ones coming out now – books that frankly and unambiguously depict sex between queer people, and treat it as seriously as we treat cishet sex. So much of homophobia and self-loathing comes from the fact that we don’t discuss and depict this stuff openly. People fear the unknown.”
In Black Iris, Laney leaves to college to escape the rumors that haunted her in high school. She finds new friends, but when the bully from her teen years returns, she decides to live up to her reputation, because every rumor is true. While some have referred to Black Iris as twisted, Raeder sees her novel in a different light.
“I love that one person can take Black Iris as a dark, twisted romance, while another sees it as a brutal cautionary tale,” she said. “Writers like Nabokov and another favorite of mine, Janet Fitch, get at things I believe to be true: this is an ugly, cruel, cold, lonely world, but there is so much beauty here, too.”
Raeder’s words may offer a new perspective for some but even so, Black Iris is not a totally fictitious tale. Raeder drew heavily from her personal experience with bullying as a queer teen. But even if she hadn’t drawn from her own life, the events in Black Iris draw frightening parallels to the bullying faced by queer youth around the world.
“Gaybashing and bullying still happens. Even though we’ve made great strides toward LGBTQIA+ rights, queer kids still have the highest suicide rates, still often end up psychologically scarred, still struggle to accept themselves,” she said. “Bullying still happens and until it stops happening, we need to talk about it. And even if it stops, we need to continue talking about it, because it should never again happen to anyone, ever.”
While young adult still figures out what boundaries it’s willing to push, new adult has offered readers and authors some new stomping ground. Raeder is among the stompers. She’s unafraid to engage with ideas that others may shy away from and she’s certainly not willing to let things slide when it comes to lack of representation.
“Lack of censorship is new adult’s biggest strength,” Raeder said. “But also a strength that is largely not being capitalized on by NA writers. By now we could’ve had thousands of … romances depicting queer folk, people of color, people with disabilities, etc., but instead we get the same cishet white people over and over. [We] can do better than this.”