It's September, which for many people means back to school time. For some of you, though, September means — HOLY CRAP — you are not going back to school. Whether you're renting your first apartment, planning a trip abroad, hanging on your parents' couch, or heading off to grad school (which is sort of going back to school but, trust me, is nothing like college), you know that this is an exciting and difficult time in your life. It's such an exciting and difficult time, in fact, that psychologists have come up with a name for it: emerging adulthood.
It’s a creepy label, and we’re not going to address it.
We are, however, going to address books about people going through the same shit that you’re going through — because, real talk: there’s a lot of rich material for authors to work from regarding your particular challenges right now. That’s why people have been writing about the experiences of twentysomethings for a long time. (Jane Austen’s Emma, anyone?)
These books — about characters' struggles to define themselves as adults, to make important life decisions, and to come to terms with the choices their younger selves made — are some of the most interesting, and they’ll help ease your transition from college to adulthood, or at least remind you that you're not the only one going through it. Read up:
Further Out Than You Thought by Michaela Carter
Set against the backdrop of the 1992 riots in L.A., this lyrically written debut novel released in early August tells the story of 25-year-old Gwen, who is paying her way through grad school working as a stripper, and her unemployed musician boyfriend Leo. As the city around them erupts in violence, and Gwen learns that she's pregnant, she and Leo will be forced, one way or another, into adulthood.
Friendship by Emily Gould
Emily Gould's debut novel captures perfectly the many struggles facing emerging adults: demoralizing jobs, trouble making rent, disappointing relationships, regrettable sex, and a friendship tested as the two main characters forge different paths toward adulthood. Amy and Bev have been friends for years, but now their lives are moving in different directions. Amy spends her time looking back on the glamorous job she lost, incapable of moving forward with her life. Bev recognizes that she needs to grow up, but isn't exactly sure how to make that happen. When she gets pregnant, her decisions will forever alter her friendship with Amy.
You're Not Much Use to Anyone by David Shapiro
Another newly released debut novel, You're Not Much Use to Anyone is semi-autobiographical, featuring a protagonist named David who is just out of college and whose Tumblr brings him national attention. This hilarious narrative perfectly captures the aimlessness of the "click-here-now" generation.
Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain
What do twentysomethings do if they want to avoid grad school, or meaningless entry-level jobs? They move abroad, of course. Necessary Errors is the go-to novel for the emerging adult expat experience. The novel features Jacob, a recent Harvard graduate who moves to Prague in 1990, one year after the Velvet Revolution. Jacob teaches English and hangs out with other expats, but struggles with revealing his sexuality to his new friends. As you would hope from fiction set abroad, the setting is the star in this book, but Jacob's lessons will resonate as well with readers of his generation.
My Education by Susan Choi
What is about being in your 20s and making regrettable decisions about sex that seem to go hand in hand? Susan Choi's newest novel tells the story of Regina, a graduate student who recklessly pursues an affair with her professor's wife. The novel eventually moves forward in time 15 years, giving Regina the time and perspective to learn from her mistakes.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
After Mitchell professes his love for his friend Madeleine he sets off, rejected by her, on a pilgrimage to discover the meaning of love and life. Meanwhile, Madeleine follows her intelligent but emotionally unstable boyfriend Leonard to a biology laboratory on Cape Cod. A love triangle that begins during the characters' senior year of college and follows them as they graduate and attempt to make their way as adults in the world, The Marriage Plot explores how emerging adults can find love and happiness in our modern world.
My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta
This debut memoir from the independent publisher Red Hen Press isn't for the faint of heart. Washuta's honest and lyrical language as well as her subject matter — her struggles with bipolar disorder and coping with the effects of rape — will gut you, but it's the rawness of this work that makes it worth reading. Washuta's form, including revised psychiatrists' notes, annotated research papers on the use of the term "hooking up," summaries of prescription medications, and a Match.com profile, is inventive and invites the reader into the author's chaotic brain. The book perfectly articulates the difficulties navigating the path toward adulthood while coping with trauma and mental illness.
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Thanks to her hit show Girls, Lena Dunham has become the poster child for emerging adults. Dunham's hilarious and much-anticipated collection of essays will be released at the end of September and is already receiving rave reviews. What's it like to emerge into adulthood in front of the entire world? I can't wait to find out.
Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown
After reading about all of these characters fumbling their way toward adulthood, you might want some advice about how to make the transition a bit more gracefully. Adulting is based on Williams Brown's blog of the same name, and provides answers to your most pressing questions. How do you find the right apartment, dress for work, or quit your job gracefully? Read the book to find out.