Even though teens are being bombarded with tons of hormones, it doesn’t mean they want a romantic barrage in their book choices. There have been plenty of teens crossing my path who request romance-free Y.A. books. They always feel the need to defend their decision for some reason though – not ready, culture, religion, or just don’t like it.
As with the teens who ask for books filled with romance, I don’t judge the teens who want romance-free. It is merely another subgenre of books. The only issue is that “romance-free” is not really a sortable genre on book searches (even though romance is – unfair!). To make things easy for you, here are my quick picks for those wanting to avoid anything lovey-dovey.
Contagion by Erin Bowman
If a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller were turned into a Y.A. book, you would get Contagion. A skeleton search-and-rescue crew travels to a distant planet to respond to an SOS signal. Upon arrival, there is nothing but discarded weapons and dead bodies. The crew then tries to piece together what happened to these people. Who has time for romance when your life is on the line?
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Fair warning, this book can be very confusing and hard to follow in the beginning. However, know that this confusion is completely purposeful. The story follows Caden Bosch. He is a genius-level high school student on a ship that this headed to the deepest point on Earth (Challenger Deep). While Caden is the artist-in-residence tasked with documenting the journey, he is dealing with many more challenges. This book is more of an individual character study. It pays more attention to Caden that anyone else – especially not a love interest.
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Victoria (V.E.) Schwab is a renowned author in both Y.A. and adult circles. Her Y.A. fame began with This Savage Song. Even though the two main characters are a boy and a girl, their relationship avoids the star-crossed romance cliché. They struggle to decide whether to be friends or enemies in a world where actual monsters roam the world.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
A toddler is abandoned in a graveyard only to be adopted by the supernatural creatures who live there. This book led to Gaiman’s first Newbery Award (since he officially became a U.S. Citizen when writing it). The real story begins once the toddler (Bod) grows up and starts to think of life outside of the graveyard. However, the man who killed Bod’s family is waiting for him out there somewhere. This selection is great for younger teens or older teens needing a high-low despite its age.
Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
A vaccine was created to save the world from a deadly viral epidemic. However, the vaccine had unforeseen side effects for a small percentage of the population. They gained superhero-like powers. The story follows 17-year-old Ciere who can change her appearance at will. Government agents are hot on her trail to make her serve the country with her abilities. She manages to keep ahead of them with her crew of superhero criminals who work for a gang of mobsters. There is too much action and suspense to worry about romance, but the sequel to this book does have a romantic subplot.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co.) by Jonathan Stroud
Author Jonathan Stroud became famous from his Bartimaeus Sequence. Side note, those books are both hilarious and amazing; and you should read them. Lockwood & Co. is his newest book series, beginning with The Screaming Staircase. While many libraries classify the book as juvenile, its appeal easily goes beyond that age group. The story follows a girl and boy who compose a psychic investigation agency to deal with the country’s outbreak of dangerous ghosts. Filled with suspense and Stroud’s unique style of humor, this book will please anyone. It is especially good those looking for romance-free stories.
Sometimes the teen in question does not necessarily want a completely romance-free book. Instead, they desire easing into some romantic subplots or just become comfortable with the idea of romance happening in the larger story.
Here are some good choices to scratch that itch:
Nyxia by Scott Reintgen
Emmett Atwater has the opportunity of a lifetime that will earn enough money to care of his family forever. Each recruit for this program is going head-to-head to earn their spot to travel to the planet of Eden in order to mine a substance called Nyxia. Yet, secrets abound and Emmett is faced with a crisis of conscience. There is a small romantic subplot, but there is so much happening that it doesn’t get much attention or time.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Death is cured. Humanity is finally at peace. Still, to keep from overpopulation, scythes (agents of death) travel into towns to randomly take the lives of people. The story is about Citra and Rowan who are chosen to be apprentices to a scythe. While neither want the “honor” of becoming a scythe, it turns out they don’t have much of a choice. Romance is merely a ghost in the background though. It is just a nod while the intense plot takes center stage.
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
Three teen girls linked by both fate and choice live on the island of Sawkill Rock. Girls have disappeared for decades. Legend says they were all stolen away by a monstrous beast who accepts them as a sacrifice in exchange for living on the island. Romance isn’t really involved, but different forms of sexuality are lightly addressed. Therefore, I considered it as more of a low-romance selection.
–Brooke Windsor, currently watching Flip or Flop