Hub Bloggers Love: Young Adult Fiction Without Romance

While many people might wish to continue celebrating Valentine’s Day with romantic reads, there are plenty of readers who prefer their fiction fairly romance-free.  If librarian listservs and Twitter conversations are anything to go by, “books with little to no romance” are a common but surprisingly challenging readers’ advisory request in libraries across the country and all year round.  Again, the Hub bloggers are here to help!


This week we gathered together showcase some of our favorite young adult fiction where romance is either absent or plays a minor role in the story.  Through the combined efforts of the Hub blogging team, we’ve collected a varied list of primarily recent titles that should provide books with appeal for a wide range of readers.  Hopefully, you will spot something to please your readers on a quest for literature with a more platonic focus.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston (2015 Morris Award Finalist; 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Owen is training to be a dragon slayer, a crucial job in a world where dragons bring death and destruction. With help from their friends and family, Owen and his female bard Siobhan seek the source of a growing dragon threat. Siobhan and Owen’s strong bond is based on their friendship and common goal, but there’s no romance involved.   – Sharon R.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Kaz, a member of the Dregs gang, has scored a big heist but he needs help.  He enlists five others to help him break into the unbreakable Ice Court to steal some precious cargo.   – Dawn A.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge 

Ever since she fell into a nearby pond, Triss has been horribly aware that something is wrong.  She’s suddenly developed an insatiable appetite, her little sister seems afraid of her and inanimate objects like dolls not only speak–they scream.  To discover what’s happened to her and her family, Triss must journey into strange and bizarre worlds within, beyond, and beneath her world.      – Kelly D.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997 Best Books for Young Adults; 2003 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults; 1997 Newbery Honor)

Gen is the best thief in the world and can do whatever he wants to do. At least that is what he claims before he is caught and imprisoned by the King of Sounis. The king’s main advisor soon hatches a plan to harness Gen’s skills in order to steal a holy relic and conquer Sounis’ enemies. An adventure full of unusual characters, storytelling, and mythology.   – Miriam W.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

In a different world, the library of Alexandria survived. The library governs the people, selecting knowledge to filter to the people. Jess’s father works as a book smuggler. He decides that Jess’s value lies in his future – at the library as a spy. He forces Jess to take the entrance exam. Jess passes the exam and heads off for basic training.   – Jennifer R.

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

Lozen grew up in a divided world—there were the Ones, whose genetic and technological augmentation set them apart, and the mere humans who served them.  Then the Cloud came. Digital technology stopped working and much of the world is a wasteland, peppered with monsters—the Ones’ genetically engineered pets gone wild.  Now, Lozen hunts down these creatures, serving the remaining Ones in exchange for her family’s safety.  But Lozen is more than a monster exterminator—she’s destined to be a hero.  – Kelly D.

Realistic Fiction

Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott (2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

In the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, bartering for paper or borrowing scissors could mean death.  But in the brutal winter of 1944, Zlatka risks everything to secretly craft an origami heart filled with birthday messages for her best friend Fania.  Amidst the horrors of daily life in the camp, Zlaka, Fania, and the other prisoners in their unit protect each other and find hope in small rebellions.  Based on a true story, this novel in verse gives voice to a group of young women who banded together to survive and reclaim their personhood in the face of dehumanizing cruelty.  – Kelly D.

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones (2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

After his father’s death, Evan picks up the book his father was reading and discovers it to be the memoir of a Japanese soldier stranded on an island in WWII.  Between the pages, Evan finds a letter revealing a sinister connection between the narrative recounted in the book and Evan’s stern grandfather, a former Marine whom he has never met.  Soon Evan finds himself journeying through the mysterious book, seeking to unravel this strange family mystery and come to grips with his loss.  – Miriam W.

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis 

To hide a disgraceful pregnancy, Grace Mae is sent to a Boston asylum where she chooses silence.  There she meets a doctor who helps her escape to an ethical asylum in Ohio.  The doctor uses Grace’s keen perception in his studies as a criminal profiler as the two try to solve a series of murders.  – Stacy H.

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat 

Giselle and her twin sister Isabelle were born holding hands.  At sixteen, their lives remain intertwined and harmonious–even in the face of their parents’ seemingly sudden decision to divorce.  But now Giselle lies in a hospital bed, unable to move or speak or truly wake up but keenly aware that her last memory is of sitting in the back seat of their family car, gripping Iz’s hands as a red minivan careened into them. And Giz feels truly alone for the first time.  Would life without her other half be worth waking up for?

– Kelly D. and Sarah C.

Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler (2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Five teens meet at freshman orientation. For their project, they decide to write letters to themselves to open in four years – after graduation. After writing the letters, they go their separate ways, but their paths wind together. Through the next four years, we witness their heartaches, romances, hopes and dreams. ~ Jennifer R.

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

Rachel tries hard to be a good, obedient Christian daughter and sister.  She goes to church regularly and helps her mother run the house and homeschool her younger siblings–all preparation for her future role as a faithful wife and helpmeet for her future husband.  But despite all her efforts, Rachel doesn’t feel comforted by this destiny; instead, she feels trapped.  When she learns a former member of their church community has come back into town after a scandalous departure, Rachel contacts her, setting into motion a chain of events that will challenge everything she’s been taught to believe.  -Kelly D.

What are some of your favorite ‘romance-free’ or ‘romance-light’ books?

– Kelly Dickinson, currently reading Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and illustrated by Babs Tarr with Maris Wicks

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Kelly Dickinson

I am a librarian at an independent girls' school in the DC-Metro area. I am a compulsive baker, book addict, and genre fiction fan with passion for social justice. Find me on Twitter as @onesmartcupcake.

2 thoughts on “Hub Bloggers Love: Young Adult Fiction Without Romance”

  1. These are great! I’ve already read and loved several in the list; Cuckoo Song is a particular favorite. I’m going to have to add quite a few more of these to my already burgeoning to-read list. Thanks for the recommendations.

  2. I always liked “How to say goodbye in robot,” by Natalie Standiford, for its intense friendship that didn’t turn romantic.

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