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The best teen romance books are the kind that young adults can immerse themselves in — the kind that are hard to put down, the ones that stay with them long after they close the cover. By reading age-appropriate books, teens can explore different lifestyles and cultures through the lens of characters who, despite differences, is an awful lot like them and grappling with many of the same life changes and issues. It allows them to safely explore themes that might be happening in their own lives — and how the characters in the novels are handling them — without ever having to breathe a word to anyone about it.
We’ve put together this list of some of the best teen romance books out there today: picks from top editors and educators, award-winning novels with beautiful and diverse stories of modern teenage dating and love. But these aren’t their parents’ dusty old love stories (with the exception of Judy Blume’s Forever, which — like all Judy Blume novels — is a timeless classic). These are fresh new takes on the classic romantic tale, with perspectives from teens of all walks of life, ethnicities, and sexuality.
Pick up a stack of these books today and let your teen dig into some juicy reads that will make a lasting impression.
‘The Upside of Falling’ by Alex Light
17-year-old Becca Hart hasn’t had a boyfriend in forever — but when she’s teased about it, she makes up a lie and says she’s been seeing someone. It’s a lie that’s conveniently overheard by Brett Wells, captain of the football team and one of the most popular guys in school. Tired of being constantly told he needs a girlfriend, he comes up with the perfection solution: pretend to be Becca’s “mystery man” and help them both out. But will this fake romance end up proving to be a very real deal? Find out in Alex Light’s debut novel, The Upside of Falling.
‘The Big Great’ by Jenny Peterson
Told in two points of view — from teens Emmaline and Andrew — The Big Great talks about struggles with both mental and physical health. Emmaline spends her days receiving dialysis, seriously putting a damper on her dating prospects … until a boy slides into her Twitter DMs. The ensuing story is what readers say is a masterful blending of gravity and lightness.
“This book is sweet and uplifting, but also dark and serious and sad,” one reviewer said, while another remarked, “This book was so amazingly real, heartfelt, and thought-provoking that I literally stayed up all night to finish it.”
‘Always Human’ by Ari North
Written by queer cartoonist Ari North, Always Human is a standout for a couple of reasons. First, it’s written in a manga-influenced graphic novel style; and secondly, it’s a love story of a same-sex couple.
In a futuristic society, people can “mod” themselves, changing their appearance at will. But Sunati is attracted to Austen, a girl whose appearance never changes. Sunati assumes that super self-confidence is the reason Austen lives her life un-modded, but then she finds out the truth: Austen doesn’t use mods because a medical condition prevents her from it. Even so, Sunati decides to go ahead with their date — and it develops into a love story that teaches both Sunati and Austen that their differences can actually bring them closer.
‘Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry’ by Joya Goffney
Quinn is a list-maker and a journal-keeper, chronicling every aspect of her life — even the most juicy and embarrassing. But one day her journal goes missing, and an anonymous Instagram posts sees its mortifying contents spilled out all over the Internet. Quinn is being blackmailed: if she doesn’t comply, she’ll be outed as the journal’s author. So she teams up with the last known person to see her journal, Carter Bennett … and finds the courage to not only face down her fears, but to fall in love, in Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry.
‘Hot Dog Girl’ by Jennifer Dugan
Elouise “Lou” Parker is … a giant dancing hot dog. She’s landed her dream job at Magic Castle Playland, and is gearing up for an epic summer working alongside her best friend Seeley. Unfortunately, her crush Nick works there too — and his girlfriend is literally the park princess. Lou doesn’t stand a chance of Nick seeing her — after all, who chooses a hot dog over a princess? — but she’s determined to try her best. All the while, she’s trying to set Seeley up with the perfect girl, and scrambling to help keep the park open and their jobs secure.
‘Better Than the Movies’ by Lynn Painter
Liz Buxbaum is trying to get the guy – and it’s most certainly not her annoying neighbor Wes. But when Wes befriends Michael, the very guy Liz has her sights on, she realizes that Wes could be her “in.” She hangs out with Wes in a plot to get closer to Michael … but much to her surprise, realizes she enjoys hanging out with Wes. When it comes down to it, is Michael really the one Liz wants? Find out in Better Than the Movies.
‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon
Number one bestselling book from The New York Times, Publishers’ Weekly, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, plus recipient of a ton of other highly-acclaimed awards, Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything is a story you won’t want to put down.
Maddy is literally allergic to the world. Housebound, and with her only interactions consisting of her family and her nurse, Carla, it’s an isolated life. When she catches a glimpse of the new boy next door, Olly, out her window, Maddy knows one thing: she’s going to fall in love with him. But how is a relationship going to be possible when they live two entirely different lives? It might just be the greatest risk she’s ever taken.
‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ by Jenny Han
The first book in a three-book series (and now a Netflix feature film!), Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows Lara Jean, who has dutifully written secret notes to every boy she’s ever had a crush on and stores them under her bed. But when her private letters are mailed, they aren’t so secret any more, and Lara Jean has to own up to those crushes.
‘Eleanor & Park’ by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor and Park couldn’t be more different; Park is from an idyllic family, while Eleanor’s family struggles in the grasp of poverty and is overseen by her abusive, controlling stepfather Richie. But while riding the bus together every day, they form a bond over comics and music — and though they know that first loves rarely last, and are faced with a variety of obstacles to their relationship, they just have to be brave enough to try.
‘Fat Chance, Charlie Vega’ by Crystal Maldonado
Charlie Vega is a lot of things — but in her mother’s eyes, her standout feature is just that she’s fat. She’s an overweight brown girl in a suburb full of slim white girls … and that’s hard. But she can always count on her best friend Amelia to back her up, and she’s grateful.
When Charlie tentatively starts a relationship with Brian, who seems to be the first boy to notice her, she’s happy about it — until she realizes that she is actually Brian’s second choice. His first? Charlie’s best friend Amelia.
‘A Pho Love Story’ by Loan Le
Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai are from two very opposing Vietnamese families; their respective clans own competing pho restaurants, where both teens work. When they run into each other by chance, the connection is instant. They’re like a modern-day Romeo and Juliet — but how can they forge any sort of relationship in the midst of their feuding families? Find out in A Pho Love Story.
‘Forever’ by Judy Blume
Originally published in 1975, this controversial coming-of-age romance from Judy Blume is a classic worth passing down. Katherine Danziger and Michael Wagner are in love — and when Katherine loses her virginity to Michael, she’s sure that means they’re tied to one another forever. But then she begins to develop feelings for another boy during a summer separation, and questions what “forever” really means.
‘What If It’s Us’ by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera
In this award-winning YA novel that Publishers’ Weekly called “A charming, sweet-natured love story between two very different boys,” we meet Ben and Arthur, who meet at — of all places — the post office. The universe seems to be both pushing them together and pulling them apart, all at once. Is their chance encounter going to blossom into something more, or is it just that — chance?
‘Today Tonight Tomorrow’ by Rachel Lynn Solomon
On the last day of their senior year, Rowan Roth finds herself unexpectedly paired up with Neil McNair: her archnemesis. All throughout high school, these two overachievers have competively sparred over high test scores and student council elections. But when they team up to beat the rest of their senior class at a game, they realize that they might just have more in common than the drive to outdo one another.
‘Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli
If you haven’t seen the movie Love, Simon — or if you have, and you loved it — this is the novel that started it all. Simon Spier is 16 and knows he’s gay, but he’s far too shy to come out. But then one day he accidentally leaves his computer open at school — and an email exchange with the mysterious “Blue,” who is the only person on earth who knows he’s gay, is exposed. Now Simon has to face his fears of being outed … and in the process, figure out who Blue actually is.
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