As I’m just about to go into my second year of university, I’ve never been more desperate to read more YA set in college than I am at this very moment. There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding the need for more YA books to be set after high school — and yes, I know NA is a thing, but for someone with the majority of the books I’ve been reading since I was 12 being YA, suddenly jumping into a new readership seems daunting. And plus, I still connect to so many YA stories. I’m only 19, that weird age when you’re not quite a teenager anymore but not quite an adult either, and I still see so much of my life in the protagonists from the YA books I read. And I know I’ll be reading YA for quite some time to come, even once I leave uni.
One of the main reasons I haven’t ventured out into NA and tried to read more of those books has definitely been influenced by the stereotype that NA is more about relationships and romance, and yes, sex. I’m asexual… so you might be able to understand why I wouldn’t be able to see that aspect of myself in the protagonists. I want first romances, cute handholding, and swooning. I’d definitely be happy to give some NA a go that doesn’t involve much or any romance. But another one of the reasons why I haven’t really given NA a try is because it doesn’t have the same platform as YA. YA is everywhere I look — on Twitter, Instagram, the blogs and BookTube channels I follow — and joining a whole new community seems daunting to me.
So something that I’ve been thinking about more and more of late, and something that it appears other bloggers have been thinking about too, is the need for more YA to be set in the first year or two of college or university. I mean, I started university when I was 18. Some of the protagonists in high school YA I’ve read are 18. I don’t see why there should be such a hard distinction between YA and NA sometimes, with publishers often not being willing to pick up a YA manuscript that’s set in college because they might not feel as though it fits with the target audience or that there’s any demand for it. But let me tell you this — there definitely is demand for more YA to be set in college.
If we’re being honest, not a lot has changed in my life from being in high school to transitioning into university. I still live at home. I was still in a relationship with the same person going from high school to university. I was still coming to understand my sexuality and how I identified, while navigating my life that consists of part time work and going to uni a few days a week. Yes, I have more freedom than I did in high school, but beyond that, not a lot has changed.
One of the things that often defines YA is the protagonist’s story of ‘finding themselves’, and I never would have guessed this, but I’d definitely say the most influential year in ‘finding myself’ came last year — during my first year of university. Last year was the first time I felt like I could actually do more of the stuff I loved, like writing and blogging, I was able to become friends with people that I could relate to a lot more than I did in high school, and I was finally able to become honest with myself about being biromatic asexual. For the first time in my life, I felt like I finally found the people I belonged with — and that was amazing. So that’s part of the reason why we can’t understate the need for YA set in college. It’s a time in a young person’s life that can be just as influential, if not more, in the formation of who someone in their late teens is as a person.
Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to read three YA novels set in college recently! They were all very different, but I hope it’s indicative of more of the YA books I’ll read in the near future. So here are my thoughts on all three of them!
- The college setting, of course!
- It was about a reality TV show, which was super interesting.
- YAY FOR MENTAL ILLNESS REPRESENTATION! The protagonist has depression, and there’s discussions about psychology, therapy, and suicide.
- The writing style was really unique! It was written kind of like a journal, which was pretty cool.
- I found that I couldn’t connect with Jane as much as I would have liked, just because she’s very sarcastic and self-deprecating a lot of the time.
- THIS WAS A LONG BOOK. It was over 400 pages, and while I read it pretty fast because of the format, I found that the middle dragged a bit.
- I didn’t feel hooked because the outcome of the reality TV show didn’t feel like enough to make me know what was going to happen. So that element was pretty meh for me.
- THE PROTAGONIST IS BIROMANTIC ASEXUAL. And that’s me! That’s how I identify! It was incredible to see my sexuality portrayed in a novel — FINALLY!
- A lot of this book took place in a library, and Alice meets her crush at the library, and AHH IT WAS JUST GORGEOUS. I was crying happy tears pretty much the entire time.
- Alice goes to therapy to talk about her fears and to understand herself and how she identifies better. It’s not often that we get to see good representation for therapy in YA, and I absolutely adored this element.
- There’s discussions about the asexual spectrum and recognition about the fact that sexuality is fluid!
- THAT COVER. MY HEART.
- My only slight complaint is that this sometimes felt like a book for people to understand what it means to be biromantic asexual than just about a girl who identifies that way, while not having the whole plot revolve around this. Alice spends so much time explaining herself and discussing what it means to identify as asexual and there wasn’t a lot going on besides that — this was a book about sexuality. And while I loved this book, sometimes Alice being biromantic asexual felt like her only defining characteristic.
- THE WRITING WAS JUST SO BEAUTIFUL. Nina LaCour is a national treasure and I will worship her and her writing as long as we both shall live.
- This novel portrays grief and loss so poignantly, and I just lost myself in the narrative.
- It’s set at college in the winter when everyone else is on break and Marin is staying back, and it was incredible atmospheric and I loved all the snow imagery. Another spectacular aspect of this book.
- QUEER. Full stop.
- IT WAS TOO SHORT AND I WANTED MORE. Also, this book reduced me to a sobbing mess by the end, but that’s not really a complaint. If anything, it’s a compliment.
Have you read many YA novels set in college? Do you have any recommendations for NA with heavy friendship elements? Have you read any of the three novels I mentioned above, or do you have any recommendations? I’d love to know!