Booklist: Realistic Romance

If you’re searching for romantic novels in the young adult genre, you will only have to look for approximately ten seconds before being buried beneath an annal of books. Just recently, Hub bloggers have compiled a great list of interracial romances and a list of their favorite recent releases in YA contemporary romances. 

This makes sense, as romance tends to be an important part of people’s lives and everyone remembers the relationships they either had or wanted to have in high school. Older adults read these books to reminisce about their own experiences. Young adults may read these books because they are interested in stories that align with their experiences or what they wish their experiences had been.

One of the complaints I’ve heard (and made) about a lot of young adult romance novels is that they’re not always very realistic and are oftentimes cliche-ridden and predictable. The awkward and/or quirky girl or boy meets up with the girl or boy who is popular but really has these hidden depths that only the quirky unpopular person can truly understand. These may be fun, escapist, well-written, and engrossing stories. They just maybe don’t reflect the reality of most teen relationships. 

Many readers like a little romance now and again, but still want some romance that didn’t follow tropes or ended with the ambiguity that often occurs in real life. 

These are books that do a good job of tackling romance in more realistic ways.


The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

This is a book about a boy named Wes and a girl named June who meet and do not immediately fall in love with each other. They also don’t hate each other and then come together a lá Pride and Prejudice. They meet each other and exist. Eventually June starts pity-dating one of Wes’ friends but even then, he isn’t overwhelmed with a jealous desire for her. Eventually they just start spending time together and before you know it, they’ve got some hard decisions to make about the future.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book) 

Eleanor and Park meet and bond over her needing somewhere to sit on the bus. Park reads comic books every day and she secretly reads along with him. They start to hang out with each other even though they don’t have a lot of opportunity and they seem to be total opposites. That mantra might sound familiar but this is “opposites attract” without the requisite clichés.

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Ezra has to reinvent himself when an injury during a car crash robs him of his identity as a tennis star. He tries new things, reconnects with old friends along the way, and meets a girl who seems like the perfect manic-pixie dream girl. But is she the reason he’s changing? Is she perfect for him? Does she have to be?

Paper Towns by John Green (2009 Best Books for Young Adults)

I know the movie came out this past summer so it’s not like this is some diamond in the rough I’ve unearthed for you, but this has one of my favorite endings ever for a book. There’s a lot to digest about putting people on pedestals and finding out whether people can ever live up to the expectations we set for them.

Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga

Jimmy’s friend Sara goes to live in New York. Jimmy has feelings for her and writes her a letter asking her to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building before heading for New York himself. He finds himself surprised by both Sara and the city itself.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

This is a heart-breaking love story, and I honestly don’t think there are enough of these in YA. Because sometimes you fall in love and it is so, so terrible and it definitely isn’t going to work out. While this book is amazing because it offers a global perspective on LGBTQ rights, anyone who has every felt the heartache of a love that doesn’t work out can relate to this story.


So if you’re not always looking for that typical romantic comedy formula,* you should check some of these books out. They’ll get you thinking about whether soul mates and “love at first sight” actually exist.

*You know, boy or girl likes someone/feeling is reciprocated/one person does something stupid to make other person mad/first person has to get other person back and (often) inexplicably does/cue tears and roll credits.

I think this is important as I’ve had plenty of students who believe you can find love while in high school as well as others who scoff at the idea of wasting time with relationships and think teen relationships end up failing more than they end up working out. I like to see types of both stories available to meet the needs of all readers.


What books have you read that chose to switch things up from the typical way romantic seasons are portrayed within young adult novels?

— Ethan Evans, currently reading The Hunted by Matt de la Peña and listening to The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien whenever he’s driving somewhere, with contributions from Hub Manager Molly Wetta

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