As much as I love books with adorable, swoon-worthy romances in them, I’ve really come to appreciate reading YA that has little or no love included in the narrative. I feel like during my teen years, I was told that my experiences weren’t as valid unless I had a significant other. Like I needed to be in a relationship to feel validated, or like I deserved to be loved. And that’s a really dangerous mindset. I’m only 19, but I feel as though my opinions about romance in YA has dramatically shifted over the past couple of years—so much so that I actively look for books without romance in them.
Some of the books that got me into YA included Hush, Hush, City of Bones, The Hunger Games, and Shatter Me. To say those relationships were a little unrealistic and even toxic at times would be an understatement. And then I became obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars, which I’m sure will live on to be the “sick-lit” book of our generation. That book 100% gave me false expectations about weekends in Amsterdam and confessions of love over risotto. And Ansel Elgort… someone hold me.
But over the past year or so, I really felt as though I’ve come to better understand my identity and my need (or lack thereof) for a relationship. I used to feel as though I needed a significant other to feel “whole”. But as cheesy as it might seem, that feeling only came from understanding who I am and what I want in life—and that’s not necessarily being in a relationship. I’m a proud member of the queer community and as much as I love the idea of coming home to a loved one and putting on a movie for us and our fourteen cats, right now that isn’t my focus.
As a 19 year-old woman, my main focusses in life at the moment are my book club, my career, and my friends. While I know that’s not the same for everyone and being in a relationship does play a major part in some peoples’ lives, that’s not on my mind at the moment. So why should I have to feel bombarded by every YA novel I pick up being about romance? I can’t even begin to explain how sick I am of seeing allocishet romances in particular. Life is too heteronormative as it is.
Of course it’s necessary for there to still be romance in YA because a lot of teens are experiencing their first loves and first heartbreaks, and they deserve to feel seen and recognise their experiences in what they’re reading. But teens who aren’t in relationships or are aromantic or asexual should seem themselves represented in YA as well. Perhaps if I read more books that focussed on friendship instead of romance, I would have felt less of a pressure to push myself into relationships in my high school years. While we’re undoubtably starting to see a shift in regards to romance in YA now, it’s definitely something that can be improved and expanded upon.
Putting relationships and love you feel for a partner or significant other on a pedestal in YA can also cement the dangerous ideology that romantic love is more important or more legitimate than the love you feel for friends. Love isn’t just reserved for romantic interests—it’s something we feel for those close to us. Friendship and the love we have for our friends shouldn’t be underestimated or considered less. And friendship breakups can be just as painful as splitting with your significant other—sometimes even more so.
So here I’ve got five of my favourite YA novels that focus more on friendship than romance. I hope you can add these to your TBR if you’re feeling like what you’re reading is too romance-heavy!
I hope you enjoyed my little discussion! Now it’s over to you. Do you think there’s too much romance in YA? What are some of your favourite YA novels that focus more on friendship, rather on romantic love? Have you read any of my recommendations? I’d love to know!