What the New Adult Genre Could Learn from Mr. Magorium

Several people have talked about what they would like to see in the “New Adult” genre that is gaining in popularity, and I thought I would share my thoughts.

I’m 27 years old. I don’t have a problem with reading about teens who are 10+ years younger than me, clearly, but sometimes I want to read about people closer to my age. But I don’t want to read about people’s sex lives, which is what most New Adult seems to be primarily focused on. I love a lot of things about YA literature, but if a book is about a whiny 14 year old I’m not as interested. I like books I can relate to, and I can relate to a 22 year old trying to figure out her life, because 5 short years ago (seriously, it feels like it was yesterday), that was me. Sometimes that’s still me, just older.

molly-mahoney
This was me.

I love the movie Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, and I think it’s grossly underrated and under-appreciated. When I first saw it, it was just pure fun, a fantastical story about a magical toy store and the people affected by it. But at some point when I rewatched it, I came upon a realization: I was Molly Mahoney. Molly Mahoney is the character played by Natalie Portman, who I would argue is the center of the story even if it is called Mr. Magorium‘s Wonder Emporium. She’s 23 and has graduated from college, but is still working at a toy store while she dreams of becoming a great composer. Mr. Magorium, played by Dustin Hoffman, encourages her dream by always asking how her masterpiece is coming along.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium movie image Dustin Hoffman and Natalie PortmanThen he announces that he’s leaving, essentially, that he’s about to die and leave the Earth. Since he’s in perfectly good health this leads Molly to believe that he has gone delusional in some way and is determined to convince him that he is not dying. But the truth of the matter is that, by some magical way that Mr. Magorium is capable of doing, he is choosing to leave the Earth after a good, long life, and he wants to leave his store to Molly. He hires an accountant (who ends up being referred to as “the counting mutant”) to get everything in order before he leaves the store to Molly. She is overwhelmed and quite insistent that she can’t run his store, because she’s not magical like him.

magorium-molly-hugI want to switch gears for a minute to talk about Henry, “The Mutant,” but I’ll get back to Molly. I’m married to an accountant, and my husband and Henry are pretty much one in the same. They are realistic and like having all their ducks in a row. Henry needs Molly to grow, because he struggles to see past numbers and order. Molly needs Henry to grow because she needs the perspective of someone who is practical but can also see the “spark” in her, that she is capable of more than she realizes. I love it when he tells Molly, “You know, some people… send flowers, or cards, or… give people hugs. I… make sure their paperwork’s all in order. I thought I’d try something different,” as he sees her struggle with Mr. Magorium leaving.

henry-toyshopAt the end of the movie, Molly has grown and changed, closer to fully realizing what all she is capable of. For most of us, it’s not quite as magical and exciting, and we may never feel quite as fulfilled as Molly seems to at the end of the movie, but it’s a fictional story and perhaps somewhat glamorized version of what many of us go through as twenty-somethings. I may not feel like Molly Mahoney at the end of the movie now, but I can certainly see change from the past five years, change towards something more positive and fulfilling as I work towards my goal to became an author. And even if I reach that goal it doesn’t mean everything will fall into place and be perfect, because it won’t. Life is a continuous struggle. But there’s also a lot of beauty in the journey, and we discover it with others around us with different gifts, like Molly and Henry.

I haven’t actually read any books labeled as New Adult yet, so I might be off base in assuming they’re not like Molly’s story, but I have been lead to believe they’re not. It doesn’t have to be so fantastical and “rated G” like Mr. Magorium, but something that focuses on the struggle you face as a young adult of trying out who you are, not who you are in bed, but what your strengths are, which friends in your life are your true friends, etc.

Perhaps the young adult genre could merely expand to include stories of the slightly older young adults, rather than breaking off into this whole other genre. I don’t know what the best way to market all this would be. But I think a lot of people would be able to relate to this sort of story. I know the not-too-much-younger me craved it. I would have written if I had any clue how to at the time. Maybe that’s part of the problem, is not knowing how it’ll end realistically. Because in real life, the process never truly ends.

If you’re interested in someone’s thoughts about what might be wrong with the New Adult genre, check out this article from The Huffington Post, “The Problem with New Adult Books.”

What do you think about stories about struggling twenty-somethings? Is this something you would like to see? Or have you seen it before and I’ve missed it? 

23 Responses to What the New Adult Genre Could Learn from Mr. Magorium

  1. Yes! I completely agree with you here. I would love to read books about characters in their early twenties, in college or graduating, finding their way etc. I think there is a lot of potential for stories like this, but at the moment New Adult just seems to be YA – with added sex! I think there’s room for YA with slightly older protagonists (e.g. in Maria V Snyder’s Study series Yelena is 20 in the second book). Also ties in with ideas of aspirational reading. But then again maybe I’ve just missed all these wonderful twenty-something books!

    • Yes, there’s definitely so much more potential for it than what is being done! And I agree, I do think there is room in YA with older protagonists.

  2. You have no idea the memories that this post brings. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium was a movie that I used to watch on repeat. I couldn’t get enough of it! It was so fantastical and bright. And even I can relate a lot to Molly, though I’m not even close to her age 😛

    The New Adult genre seems to be one of repetition to me. It’s the same story in different books– contemporary romance stories about young (er, new?) adult characters that are very trope-y getting together, with hardly any mention of actual college or their plans for the future. Honestly, whenever I look through a list of NA titles, I can’t help but notice that they all generally have the same premise.

    So yes, I agree, NA can learn a lot from Mr. Magorium. Let’s abandon the tired trope-y characters get together story and create some stories that are actually about growing up and transitioning into another stage of life. 😀

    • I’m so glad someone else loves this movie like I do! And yes, I think adding more diverse storylines would be great for the NA genre. Less tropeness please!

  3. I love this post, I agree that there are some holes in the New Adult genre, I feel stuck in the middle with YA and New Adult that doesn’t involve kids, divorce and stuff I don’t want to deal with. I love this movie and so agree!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

    • Yay, more love for Mr. Magorium! I wonder if the publishers are aware that we want something like this? I just haven’t heard of anything like this in the works.

  4. I agree with all of the above! (Plus now I have a serious need to watch that movie – I totally forgot how awesome it was!) I’ve read some good NA books, but most of them, like you said, are about the characters’ sex lives, and nothing else. Plus, all NA is contemporary, it seems. I’d love to see a fantasy or sci-fi NA! I think that’s why I liked Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson so much – the main character was 18. Not quite NA, I guess, but he’s much older than the 14-16 usually seen in YA.

    • I agree seeing sci-fi and fantasy NA would be great! I always appreciate when the protagonists are older teens like 18… just another reason for me to look forward to reading Steelheart!

  5. While I doubt a NA book about my current struggles would be interesting (can we afford a house/kids, is this the job I want as my career?), I would love to see more NA focus on the issues we run in to in our early-mid twenties that aren’t just relationship drama.

    And like Kayla said, where’s the NA that’s not contemporary? What would that even look like?

    • I think those issues could be interesting if the character and narration were engaging enough (I agree that a book about me and my issues probably wouldn’t be all that exciting either), but yes, early 20s issues would definitely be great to read!

  6. I agree with this post SO MUCH, Amy! The focus of NA on sex is what turns me off to it overall – and maybe that’s not a correct assumption to make, but from what I’ve read and seen so far, I think it’s probably accurate for 90% of currently-popular NA books. A very few YA books include characters who end up having sex, but those scenes fade to black, or are just really vague. Why can’t that be utilized in NA books as well? There’s DEFINITELY a market for more YA-toned NA in this regard. Contemporary is what I mainly think of when I think NA, too, but why can’t we get some good NA fantasy with early-twenties MC’s? Sci-fi?? I want that SO BADLY. Although – maybe these are already out there. I know a lot of “adult” fantasy/sci-fi have younger (aka early-twenties) characters… and I highly doubt, if there is any sex in those books, it’s written in detail like many of the NA books out there. But then, many of the “adult” sci-fi/fantasy books are just too heavy for my tastes. Gah.

    We NEED more NA-aged characters in more YA-toned books. Just… need.

    • I completely agree with your statement about NA-aged characters in YA-toned books! That is absolutely what I want to see. And I agree that while there are “adult” books out there that meet some of my criteria, they’re usually longer and/or heavier as you mentioned, which is why I’d like to see more of the very thing you mentioned!

    • It’s such a tricky time trying to navigate your life. I always thought the confusion ended late in the college years but nope, apparently not!

  7. No one likes reading about other people’s sex lives, and when they do, there’s the erotica section. Full of adults. I don’t see the need to drag college students into it, or those new on the job or all those twenty somethings. Sex is quite prevalent in our society today, but I do feel that there is so much more to be explored in the New Adult genre.

  8. I haven’t read anything in the New Adult genre either just because I haven’t found anything that sounded interesting. I love how you express “something that focuses on the struggle you face as a young adult of trying out who you are, not who you are in bed”

    And I kind of like the idea of stories about older people but not necessarily a whole new genre. Sarah Addison Allen writes stories about people in their mid-late twenties. They’re not really coming of age stories but they always involve some sort of shift in who the person is or what they want with their life and there’s always some magic in them. I’d love more stories like that – stories that move around in the twenties and are about figuring out who you want to be and what you want from your life, or pick up at a point where you are in some place but want it to be something different.

  9. This is a really good post! I actually have never seen this movie (or, honestly, even heard of it…is something wrong with me?? haha), but I agree with the points you made about how it relates to NA. You make some really good points. I think that the NA genre is going to start diversifying more soon. It’s such a relatively new genre that it needs time to come into its own. I feel like people give it a hard rap because of how sexed-up it is and stuff, but I have hope for it. It’s a badly needed genre for people who are in their 20s and want to read books about people in their age group, but not books that are necessarily billed as “adult” literature either. And I think that the NA genre is going to be really good…we just might need to wait a little bit for it to catch up to our high expectations.

    • It wasn’t really that popular of a movie so no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, ha ha! You should check it out if it sounds interesting to you though! And I hope that, like you said, as the genre develops it will become more diverse!

  10. I’ve only read two NA books, Beautiful Disaster and Walking Disaster. They are the same story, just different PoV and they are just pretty much YA with sex added in. Not that they weren’t good, I liked the first one better but that’s probably because the second time around I knew what was going to happen, even though it was different PoV, it didn’t really change the story much.

    I actually haven’t seen this movie, but I know of it and have always wanted to watch it. Maybe now I should do that..lol

  11. Yup, I was so excited when I heard NA was a thing, and then so disappointed when I realized what it actually is. The books I’ve read that fit my idea of NA aren’t even marketed as NA, which gives me little hope that the genre could actually grow into something more. Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday, Maybe and Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments are the two I always think of… early-to-mid-20s characters just trying to figure out their lives. I think there’s way more of a market for those stories than just “YA + a couple years + sex.” But maybe that’s just me.

    • I agree! I haven’t read either of the books you’ve mentioned, but they both sound much more interesting to me than the NA books out there.