I have to admit that I’m a tough audience when it comes to romance novels. Whenever I see a book that promises readers a heart-pounding romance, often featuring someone looking dramatically windswept on the cover, my first instinct is to look at it and laugh. Sometimes I’ll open up these books and start to read them. If I find a passage that’s especially hilarious, I’ll even read it aloud for the enjoyment of my friends, coworkers, or whomever else is within earshot that looks like they might enjoy a dramatic reading.
That being said, if I read a romance novel and actually manage to enjoy it, it has to be pretty impressive in one way or another. Maybe that’s because it mixes genres enough that I focus on something else (like the historical aspects or the paranormal aspects) while the romance washes over me and then absorbs into my brain in more subtle ways. Or maybe it’s because the characters are so empathetic, or the setting is so memorable. For a variety of reasons, these books are on my very short list of teen romances that have enough redeeming qualities that I can actually recommend them.
OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
Bea and Beck have a “meet cute” in the dark. The lights have gone out, Beck is having a panic attack, and Bea knows what to do because she’s had panic attacks before. As the story unfolds, Bea learns that some of her behaviors that she thinks are just weird habits are actually symptoms of her obsessive-compulsive disorder. As Bea and Beck attend group therapy together and more of their symptoms are revealed, our sympathies are split between wanting them to get help with their mental issues and wanting them to find happiness in each other.
September Girls by Bennett Madison
Sam, his father and his brother are what remains of the family after Sam’s mother left them to go “find herself.” The three of them go for a vacation at an unusual beach town where many of the girls look and act remarkably alike. But the most remarkable thing is that all of these girls are paying attention to Sam. This is an unique story told from a boy’s point of view that combines romance with magic and suspense.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor gets on the school bus, and the only available seat is next to a quiet boy named Park. They seem to have nothing in common, and spend their bus rides ignoring each other. But little by little, as Eleanor looks over Park’s shoulder to see what he’s reading and they discover that they do have things in common after all, the ice between them starts to break. This doesn’t feel like a romance at first … but then again it doesn’t feel like a friendship at first, either.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Cath and her twin sister Wren are going away to college, where for the first time ever they won’t be sharing the same room. Cath meets her new roommate, who turns out to be pretty terrible as roommates go, and she worries a lot about how her life is changing and about leaving her father behind. But several things help to keep her spirits up -- writing fan fiction about Simon Snow and spending time with two boys who seem to care about her in different ways.
The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford
Speaking of dramatically windswept … okay, I’ll admit that that you don’t even have to open this book to have trouble suspending your disbelief. So you’re just going to have to get past the fact that our young lovers are looking at each other romantically … on a bridge … in Russia … in the snow … WITH NO COATS ON. Can you get past that cover? Okay. Well, the story inside is better and more believable than that cover might indicate. This is the story of an American girl who decides to spend a semester abroad in Russia. It’s 1982, which means that she’s living in the Soviet Union, the Cold War is going strong, and Americans aren’t welcome. But then she meets a boy on a bridge who changes her life.
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Natalie has always been the kind of girl who cared about good grades, a good reputation, having loyal friends, and dating a good guy instead of a jerk (which is all her school seems to offer). But then she learns that not everything is what it appears, and that maybe some of those jerks could be good guys in disguise.