I don’t know about you, but my favourite genre of YA at the moment is the romantic contemporary sort. Give me a YA contemporary any day and I’ll love you, but give me a cute, swoony romance? I’ll bake you a cake every day for a year. Give me a queer, cute, swoony romance?! I’LL BUY YOU A PLANET. No joke. Take your pick. Personally, I’d go for Saturn.
So today I wanted to share reviews for some of the romantic YA books I’ve read recently, as well as provide you with a list of all the upcoming cute contemporaries you simply must add to your TBR. Your bank account may be over in the corner quietly sobbing, but hey, sacrifices have to be made. Be warned that your heart might also be sacrificed to the bookish gods because of all the feeeeeels. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Always be prepared to have your heart ripped out when your OTP is having relationship problems.
OH MY GOODNESS. I knew this book was going to be right up my alley as soon as I heard about it, but I had no idea just how much I was going to adore it. And nobody told me the protagonist is bisexual?! EXCUSE ME WHILE I SHRIEK FOREVER. It was just such a cute, small town romance with a swoony artistic love interest and some complicated feelings towards friends and exes, and it was just everything I want in a romantic YA contemporary — and more! I NEED MORE CUTE BOOKS IN MY LIFE.
Small Town Hearts is pitched as the new must-read for fans of Gilmore Girls, and that statement could not be more spot on. Babe is fresh out of high school and working at a restaurant in her sleepy seaside town, stressing out about how her life is going to change when her two best friends go off to college. But when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, and there’s a cute new artist boy who spends her free time at her coffee shop, she knows this summer isn’t going to be the laid-back one she had planned.
I seriously loved EVERYTHING about this book! I loved how Babe being bi wasn’t the main focus of the story and she could just be a girl who got to fall in love with whomever she damn well pleased. I loved how this book discussed how devastating it can feel when you break up with your friends and feel like the world is falling apart around you. And most importantly, I just loved all the summer vibes and the iced coffee and the sandcastle building competition! THIS BOOK WAS ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. It’s the perfect one to binge on while sitting on the beach feasting on ice cream!
WHAT AN ADORABLE READ. Seriously, this is the kind of book I can’t get enough of. It’s cute, it’s fluffy, and it just leaves you feeling all warm and gooey inside. Plus it’s #LoveOzYA! I always enjoy supporting Aussie authors, and I’m so pleased Can’t Beat the Chemistry really lived up to my expectations. It has the classic good girl / bad boy kind of thing going on, but it was really well done and didn’t feel like it was simply rehashing themes and ideas that had already been done. This book was fresh, it was fun, and it was a book I absolutely flew through!
Can’t Beat the Chemistry is about a girl named MJ, who only wants the best grades for her final year of high school and to finally date this guy named Jason. But when she’s forced to tutor Luke, a deadbeat drummer who she totally doesn’t have time for, she realises that maybe she could learn a few things from him as well. Sometimes you just can’t beat the chemistry.
While MJ can be a little annoying at times and has a bit of a superiority complex, I absolutely adored the growing friendship between her and Luke, who’s totally misunderstood. The alternating perspectives were really well done, and I absolutely loved getting to know both of them and watching them get to know each other and realise how much they’ve misunderstood or presumed about the other. Plus, the family relationships were also SUPURB. I always really respect YA that is inclusive of the protagonists families, so this was lovely to see! If you’re in the mood for a cute, fluffy contemporary, you can’t go past Can’t Beat the Chemistry.
So this was a retelling of Tristan and Isolde? Umm… let me just be super confused about who those people are for a moment. I think perhaps I would have liked this book a lot more if I were familiar with the original tale, but I still had fun reading it as another YA contemporary. My favourite thing about this one was undoubtedly the Manhattan / New York City setting! BOOKS SET IN NEW YORK ARE MY JAM. So that gave this one instant brownie points for me! Unfortunately I didn’t looooove Izzy + Tristan, but it was still quite a pleasant read.
Sixteen year-old Izzy, an aspiring doctor, isn’t happy about her move to the Lower East Side and away from Brooklyn. She’s feeling distanced from her family, especially her twin brother, and her whole new neighbourhood. But then she meets Tristan. He’s a chess prodigy who lives with his aunt, and when him and Izzy meet on one fateful night, their lives are intertwined.
I do really like how this YA contemporary took on important themes like racial tension, gang violence, and police brutality, and I thought that was something that really made Izzy + Tristan stand out. But unfortunately, I just couldn’t really get into the three alternating perspectives and I never really found myself getting attached to any of the characters. It felt like I was watching all the action through a screen instead of being right there alongside the characters, and that kind of distancing made it hard to connect with them. I really wish I could have fallen in love with this book in the way that so many other people have, but this one just wasn’t for me!
This is seriously a book I NEEDED in high school. It has everything sixteen year-old me desperately needed in her life — queer representation where the story wasn’t about struggling with your identity, a protagonist who’s a high achiever and often closes himself off from everyone else because he feels like he has to be the best, and a story about realising getting into the best college isn’t the most important thing in life (especially if that means working yourself almost to death). THIS BOOK IS JUST SO IMPORTANT. And it also had an adorable romance, which I really loved. My goodness, how can I praise this book highly enough?
You Asked for Perfect is a book about Ariel, who’s the perfect college applicant. He aces his studies, does countless extracurriculars, and works hard to make his life look effortless. But when he fails a Calculus quiz, he’s forced to get a tutor to prevent his grade from slipping and his top college preferences rejecting him. And then Ariel starts falling for his tutor, Amir, and he has to figure out where a relationship fits into all this.
MY GOODNESS. I seriously just want to give Ariel the biggest hug ever. He’s GOING THROUGH STUFF, OKAY?! Also, Ariel is bisexual and Jewish, so A+ for representation! I loved how this book not only focussed on the harder aspects of high school that so many YA novels gloss over, but it also showed how the stress and pressure of applying to colleges takes a toll on everyone around you as well. The family relationships were so well done and I seriously felt like I was right back in high school with Ariel. Except this time, I had someone help me realise that perfect grades aren’t always everything. AHH IT WAS JUST SUCH A GREAT NOVEL. Seriously a must-read for everyone in high school or college!
10 upcoming romantic YA reads you need to add to your TBR!
Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.
But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.
As her college decision looms, Rosa collides-literally-with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?
When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.
But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.
At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.
Mia and Jake have known each other their whole lives. They’ve endured summer vacations, Sunday brunches, even dentist visits together. Their mothers, who are best friends, are convinced that Mia and Jake would be the perfect couple, even though they can’t stand to be in the same room together.
After Mia’s mom turns away yet another cute boy, Mia and Jake decide they’ve have had enough. Together, they hatch a plan to get their moms off their backs. Permanently. All they have to do is pretend to date and then stage the worst breakup of all time—and then they’ll be free.
The only problem is, maybe Jake and Mia don’t hate each other as much as they once thought…
Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.
In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.
To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.
Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:
* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick.
* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland–ever–unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.
Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love–and themselves–in unexpected people and unforgettable places.
Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She’s the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.
Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who’s obsesssed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she’s casting her senior film project, she knows she’s found the perfect lead – Sana.
There’s only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.
Told in alternative viewpoints and inspired by classic romantic comedies, this engaging and edgy YA novel follows two strongwilled young women falling for each other despite themselves.
Seventeen-year-old Bex is thrilled when she gets an internship on her favorite tv show, Silver Falls. Unfortunately, the internship isn’t quite what she expected… instead of sitting in a crowded writer’s room volleying ideas back and forth, Production Interns are stuck picking up the coffee.
Determined to prove her worth as a writer, Bex drafts her own script and shares it with the head writer―who promptly reworks it and passes it off as his own! Bex is understandably furious, yet…maybe this is just how the industry works? But when they rewrite her proudly lesbian character as straight, that’s the last straw! It’s time for Bex and her crush to fight back.
High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up in one word: bitch. It’s no surprise she’s queen bee at her private L.A. high school—she’s beautiful, talented, and notorious for her cutting and brutal honesty. So when she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, Andrew, she fears she may have lost him for good.
In an attempt to win him over, Cameron resolves to “tame” herself, much like Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. First, she’ll have to make amends with those she’s wronged, which leads her to Brendan, the guy she labelled with an unfortunate nickname back in the sixth grade. At first, Brendan isn’t all that receptive to Cameron’s ploy. But slowly, he warms up to her when they connect over the computer game he’s developing. Now if only Andrew would notice…
When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she’s talking to the one she doesn’t hate.
A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.
There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster…
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
What YA romances have you read recently? Have you read any of the ones I’ve mentioned? Which upcoming releases are you most excited to read? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Rhiza Edge and Date a Book / Hachette Australia for providing me with copies of Can’t Beat the Chemistry and Izzy + Tristan respectively in exchange for honest reviews!