Extra Credit

The New Adult genre is defined by college. If the characters aren’t in college or college-aged then it isn’t New Adult; it’s contemporary romance or YA or something else. So it’s kind of surprising how little college itself actually appears in these books. To read them you’d think college is all about frat parties, hangovers, sports teams, and sex. (Oh, right!) But you don’t need to spend 40K a year for that. And a few authors go out of their way to give a sense of the academic material and new ideas that students engage with too – maybe despite themselves. Here are some of my favorite books and scenes that take college seriously:

  • The Deal by Elle Kennedy. Sure, Garrett is a jock at risk of failing a course and Hannah starts out as his tutor. It’s been done. But Kennedy spends time on the philosophy that they work on together and it becomes an important undercurrent in their relationship as it changes. Can they develop new values and apply them to new situations? Can they stay true to themselves while being responsive to others? These are great questions for both college students and romance characters.
  • The Hook-Up by Kristen Callihan. Okay, Drew’s English teacher mother was a definite plus for this book—and that led Drew and Anna to Emerson’s writings. Anna giving Drew an edition of Emerson for his birthday is one of the sweetest moments in the book.
  • Elements of Chemistry by Penny Reid. Chemistry is usually just a conceit in romance novels, a metaphor. But here we first meet shy, quirky Kaitlyn when she’s hiding in a cabinet in her chemistry lab—and she and Martin first hit it off as lab partners. That sets the tone – oddball, smart, serious—for the whole series.
  • Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame. I just read this one and have to include it because it takes the chemistry metaphor one further by making its heroine, Lucy, a scientific genius. Her Spock-like dialogue reads a lot like Dr. Brennan in the series Bones, but her seriousness about science and the chapter epigraphs from Marie Curie et al are a treat.

I’m puzzled though as to why romance writers rarely seem to develop characters who are writers, or spend any time in a writing class (which all college students have to take, after all). The only writer hero or heroine I can recall is Clementine from Darling Clementine, and that is one of my favorite parts of that novel—especially with its funny self-conscious descriptions of her romance writing class and assignments.

To try this out myself, I’ve started drafting a new NA series, tentatively called Extra Credit, about students thrown together in a remedial writing class. To Be Continued!