Favorite Romances in YA Fic
One of my co-workers came up with a metaphor for romance in the fiction that perfectly surmises my own feelings on the subject. She said: “Romance in a story should be like seasoning.” Seasoning is an enhancer, an additive -- you value its presence in a dish, but can’t have a satisfying meal of just salt or paprika. I feel the same way about romance in a book.So, this is a list of YA books that are not necessarily labelled as a “romance,” but feature a memorable, quality love subplot. Immerse yourself in a good story that's well-seasoned with romantic intrigue!
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
Before there was Twilight, there was Sunshine. Sunshine is an ordinary girl living in a world much like ours -- filled with streetlights, coffee shops, and 9-to-5 work days. Expect magic fills the nooks and crevices of everyday life. While most people are ordinary, about one in four can do a nifty trick or two. Things like witches and wizards, weres and vampires, exist but are mostly whispered about and never seen.
So imagine Sunshine’s surprise when one night she wakes up chained to one in an abandoned mansion!
Paranormal romance at its finest, I always recommend this one as the “grown up” Twilight. Constantine is a vampire who’s not quite like other vampires. Sunshine is human ... for the most part. Together, they must work together to thwart the plans of a powerful vampire gang leader. In true Robin McKinley form, the romance -- while exciting and, at times, sizzling -- acts as a supplement to Sunshine’s larger story of self-discovery and empowerment.
These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
This book was gifted to me by a friend, who described it as “Titanic set in outer space.” Aboard the Icarus -- a spaceship the size of a small country -- Tarver Merendsen, a poor boy turned war hero, never thought he’d ever come face-to-face with the likes of the rich and beautiful Lilac LaRoux. But one evening he does and from the moment the two meet, sparks fly -- or they would, if Lilac didn’t know that her father would never allow them to be together.
But when the Icarus crashes, Tarver and Lilac are suddenly all one another has. They can find no other survivors and the planet they’ve crashed on is devoid of all intelligent life.
Or is it?
A great blend of thriller, space-based science fiction, and forbidden teenage love.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Before it was a Miyazaki movie, it was a one-of-a-kind novel by Diana Wynne Jones. Plain and practical, Sophie Hatter is exactly as her name describes: a hatter. She’s resigned to an ordinary existence making hats in her father’s shop and watching out for her two younger sisters. She is certain that unlike them, she has nothing to fear from the legendary Howl, a traveling wizard who, locals whisper, eats the hearts of pretty young girls.
But when a particularly nasty customer turns out to be a witch who puts a curse on Sophie, she doesn’t know who else to turn to. In the cover of night, she makes her way to Howl’s moving castle, unaware of what -- and who -- she will find.
A perfect cocktail of magical misadventures, British humor, and charming dialogue, Jones’ most well-known novel is recommended for those who like their witches-and-wizards fantasy with a dash of Austenian romance.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
I’m a big fan of anything by Shannon Hale, really, but as far as love stories go, the one at the heart of Book of a Thousand Days is probably my favorite.
Dashna is the handmaiden of a noblewoman who has been imprisoned in a tower for refusing to marry a vicious warlord. Dashna keeps herself and her lady warm, fed, and sane during the endless days and nights. She is willing to do anything her lady asks, but when Lady Saren asks Dashna to pretend to be her when her other suitor -- the kinder, gentler Lord Tegus -- visits them at the tower, she is reluctant to comply.
Over time, Dashna begins to develop feelings for Tegus. But can a peasant and a lord ever have a happily ever after? Another beautiful coming-of-age tale with an admirable heroine, high stakes adventure, and a great deal of heart from Shannon Hale.
Sandman: The Dream Hunters by Neil Gaiman; ill. by Yoshitaka Amano
This is one that I might suggest approaching with a box of tissues. A lyrical, poignant fairy-tale like story set against the backdrop of Feudal Japan. Two shape-shifting tricksters -- a fox and a badger -- make a wager to drive a young Buddhist monk from his temple. Both fail: the badger is driven away from the temple in disgrace, but after apologizing the monk, the fox is allowed to stay. Over time, the fox and the monk form an undeniable attachment.
One night, the fox overhears several demons conspiring against the monk’s lives. Can just one little fox thwart the plan of a greedy feudal lord? Or she already too late?
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
The newest and only non-genre book on this list. This falls under the category of “realistic” fiction, but it has a whimsy bent reminiscent of Wes Anderson films.
Alex is starting public school for the first time and she’s nervous. Well, “nervous” might be an understatement for someone who’s been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia since elementary school. Alex wants to lead a “normal” life, but is that possible when you’re always second-guessing what you see as real? Especially when one of those things is a boy you may or may not be falling for?
Made You Up, while featuring a touching and quirky love subplot, also grapples with the subject of mental illness while avoiding the label of “problem novel."