Falling in love has a special place in the journey of adolescence. Just as teenagers are establishing their identity, the search for acceptance couldn’t feel more necessary — or risky. Fortunately, there has been a positive movement in young adult literature to include and affirm a broader range of experiences.
This summer, readers can dive into rom-coms that cover themes of sexuality, gender expression, cultural expression, religious difference, body positivity and class disparity, engaging with characters whose experiences feel lived-in and organic. These books include all the heady anticipation and sweet exhilaration a hopeful romantic could wish for, even as they redefine the tropes of the genre.
Instead of meeting cute, Indian American teens Ashish and Sweetie attempt an arranged relationship in Menon’s fourth novel. Ash hides a broken heart in his basketball star swagger, while Sweetie’s passionate athleticism earns her no credit against her mother’s relentless body-shaming. Ash and Sweetie make a safe space for each other, showing an emotional maturity that motivates them to face their obstacles with courage and honesty.
by Amber Smith
The characters are less transparent in this novel by the author of “The Way I Used to Be.” After her older sister’s death, Maia struggles to resume the rhythms of everyday life. Meanwhile, Chris moves in with his aunt next door to escape his parents’ fumbling response after he comes out as transgender. Chris and Maia hide these foundational facts from each other, but those deceptions allow them to fall in love, each attracted to who the other is rather than the circumstances that describe them.
This quick and compulsive read relies on an elaborate case of mistaken identity and a phone-based relationship that affords Martin and Haley the chance to get to know each other outside of the strictures of high school hierarchies and teenage insecurities. The story unfolds entirely in text messages, which run the gamut of goofy inside jokes, self-aware angst and a slow burn of building feelings.
This is an even slower build, a story of friendship growing into love. Amusement park employee Elouise dreams of being cast as the princess, but instead she’s sentenced to spend the summer dressed as a hot dog. This is only the first of many misadventures she stumbles into, including roping her best friend into a fake relationship so she can get closer to her crush. Elouise’s big ideas don’t always execute well but her foibles feel real.
As a Muslim American teen, social justice warrior-in-training Zayneb confronts real prejudice on the daily. Her audacity and progressive points of view often make people uncomfortable, even Adam, the contemplative artist she feels instantly attracted to. Their difficulties come mostly from the differences in their natures, but they come to learn the value of another perspective, which is itself a great act of faith.
Popular girl Cameron prioritizes honesty over kindness, which earns her a certain reputation. To win back the approval of her crush, she embarks on an apology tour to repair the havoc she has carelessly wreaked. The authors use “The Taming of the Shrew” as an effective framing device to examine modern ideas of feminism, which leads to a profound character arc and the essential message of how to claim your mistakes and do better.
Ellen Morton is a writer in Los Angeles.