All the Bright Places
This beloved New York Times bestseller sheds light on teens who have experienced great hardship and are on the edge of breaking. After her sister’s death, Violet Markey vows to move far away—she’s literally counting the days until she can leave after graduation. Then, she meets a boy named Finch who helps her to live each day instead of wishing them away. But Violet soon learns that Finch suffers from depression and suicidal thoughts. This is the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who plans to die. As you can imagine, it’s an intensely emotional read that’s filled with great love and loss. It really helps readers to grasp the vast impact of mental illness, making it a must-read for everyone.
Words in Deep Blue
Who doesn’t love a great YA romance that centers around a cute bookstore and two best friends? Henry and Rachel were inseparable growing up, but Rachel always secretly wanted more. Before she moves to a different town, Rachel writes Henry a love letter and sticks it in his favorite book that lives in his family’s second-hand bookstore—a treasured meeting place for the two friends. She waits for him to reach out to her about the note, but alas, he never does. Three years later, after her brother tragically drowns, Rachel moves back to her old town hoping for an escape. Though she tries to avoid Henry, it doesn’t work, and soon, their lives are intertwined once again. Will things be different this time around? Words in Deep Blue reminds us of the importance of timing and makes us question, what is life without those we love?
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green is renowned for his uncanny ability to tell YA stories with characters that have unique, remarkable voices. The Fault in Our Stars is arguably his most popular book. It’s the love story of Hazel and Augustus—two teens who meet at a cancer support group. They both fall for each other in the hardest way, finding something that they didn’t even know they were looking for. Though Augustus is in remission, Hazel is still terminally sick. This story is about what it means to be alive and in love in the face of death. Once you’ve plowed your way through this book, watch the movie immediately. This book, and all of John Green’s books, are well-worth a read and will stick with you long after you put them down.
I'll Give You the Sun
Instead of focusing on two people falling in love romantically, Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun centers around twin siblings who find their way back to each other. As children, twins Jude and Noah were attached at the hip. As a young teen, Noah loves drawing, is shy, and finds himself falling in love with the boy next door. Jude, on the other hand, is somewhat of a rebel, always wearing red lipstick, and extremely outgoing. Years later, we learn that Jude and Noah are barely speaking—but we don’t know why. Something devastating happened to change their relationship but throughout the book, you’ll be rooting for them to make amends. Half of the story is told from Noah’s point of view and the other half is told from Jude’s. Both voices come together to create a stunning, radiant novel about bonds that can’t be broken.
If You Come Softly
This book will move you to your core, so make sure you have some tissues handy. If You Come Softly is a lyrical romance about Jeremiah, a young Black teen in Brooklyn, and Ellie, a Jewish girl who attends a fancy prep school. When their two very different worlds collide, they experience a love so strong that it makes them believe they can conquer everything. Unfortunately, forces beyond their control get in the way. This is an evocative story about interracial love and what that means in a world dominated by discrimination and violence. We all need Woodson’s examination of our divided society so that we can learn and collectively do better. You’ll find yourself moving through the book gently, but eagerly, trying to absorb the beauty that Jacqueline has embedded in every heart-wrenching page.
Jenn Marie Thorne
An interracial love story that revolves around music? Yes, please. Night Music follows Ruby and Oscar, two classical musicians who are brought together by their shared interest. Ruby is a classical pianist and the daughter of renowned composer, Martin Chertok, who teaches at a prestigious musical school. Oscar is a musical genius and wants nothing more than to study under Martin. That is, until he meets Ruby. But Oscar is also a black man and he knows, all too well, that the ultra-privileged white world of classical music might not look kindly upon him if he pursues a relationship with her. This romance hits all the right notes (that was intentional) and sparks important conversation about privilege and lack thereof.
Odd One Out
From the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin, Odd One Out weaves together the narratives of three friends—Coop, Juniper, and Rae—who have complex relationships with one another. Coop wants to be with Juniper, but Juniper likes girls and wants to be with Rae. Rae wants to be with Coop… and Juniper. So, it’s easy to see where problems arise in this trio. With this book, Stone challenges the stereotypes about sexuality and demonstrates the flexibility and fluidity of love.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Carol Rifka Brunt
Set in 1987, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a moving story of grief and love. Fourteen-year-old protagonist June Elbus has only felt a true connection with one person in her life: her uncle, Finn Weiss. He is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. When he dies from a “mysterious illness” that’s later revealed to be AIDS, June feels lost—more lost than she’s ever felt before. At Finn’s funeral, June notices a quiet young man in the crowd but doesn’t recognize him. A few days later, she receives a package from him. The two begin to spend time together and June realizes that she isn’t the only one who is grieving the loss of her uncle. A compelling look at the power of compassion, this book will tug at every one of your heart strings.
Two Boys Kissing
Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging. It’s a vital story that sheds light on an often underrepresented community. David Levithan has made his mark on YA literature by showcasing LGBTQ voices in his work and this book will hit you in all the feels. The narration will draw you in and make you never want it to end.
A Walk to Remember
A Walk to Remember is a powerful love story that has moved millions of readers. It’s the tale of Landon Carter, a young man living in the small town of Beaufort, North Carolina in the late 1950s and Jamie Sullivan, the sweet, pious daughter of the town’s Baptist minister. The two are the unlikeliest of matches and yet, during their senior year of high school, they fall for each other. Their love is complicated but beautiful. With it, Landon and Jamie learn more about life as teenagers than most people learn in their entire lifetime. Even though I’ve seen the movie adaptation too many times to count, I still find myself getting lost in it—that’s when you know it’s good.
My So-Called Bollywood Life
When a pandit, a Hindu scholar, predicted that Winnie would find the love of her life before her eighteenth birthday, she was skeptical. She’s had a boyfriend for three years, but was never really convinced that Raj was her soul mate. Soon after this prediction, Winnie’s relationship comes to an abrupt end when she finds her boyfriend hooking up with another girl. She seeks comfort from her good friend, Dev, and finds herself falling for him more and more every day. Will she choose her own happily ever after or will fate lend a helping hand? This is the perfect book for anyone who’s obsessed with Bollywood and melodramatic love stories tinged with humor.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay
Darius the Great Is Not Okay is not a romance, but showcases more kinds of love than most books do. The protagonist of the story, Darius or Darioush, is half Persian and half white, which causes him to feel fractional—less than a whole person. He’s never really fit in at home in America and doesn’t know enough about Iran to feel like he belongs there either. But when he takes a trip to Iran to meet his grandparents for the first time, everything changes. A thought-provoking look at mental illness, identity and belonging, and the meaning of love, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in a world that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same exact time.
The House on Mango Street
The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age classic about a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, who never feels at home in Chicago despite growing up there. Told in a series of vignettes, as we move through the book, we learn more about Esperanza’s large family and their struggles with money and discrimination in their community. We learn about Esperanza’s dreams and aspirations—we feel her hope, her joy, and her sorrow. Cisneros paved the way for Hispanic women writers when she wrote this iconic tale. She opened the eyes of readers to a world they either know too well or may never experience themselves. It’s deeply moving and clocks in at just 144 pages, making it a quick read that you’ll never forget.
Everything, Everything Movie Tie-in Edition
The Sun Is Also a Star Movie Tie-in Edition
Nicola Yoon has quickly made a name for herself in the world of YA romance.
Her debut novel, Everything, Everything, was an instant New York Times bestseller for a reason. It told a captivating tale about a young woman with a rare condition that restricts her from being outside. This poses trouble for her because she’s an adventurous spirit—and because she’s falling for the boy next door. I highly recommend giving this book a read (you’ll breeze through it) and then watching the movie adaptation starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson.
Nicola’s second book, The Sun Is Also a Star, demonstrated, once again, why she’s a powerful force in the literary realm. When two people collide by chance—a girl named Natasha, whose family is facing deportation, and a boy named Daniel, who has always led a life designed by his parents—their worlds immediately begin to revolve around each other. What follows is a meditation on fate and what it means to really give someone (or something) everything you’ve got.
In addition to these books being an absolute pleasure to read, they also showcase diverse protagonists who are not always the focal point of modern YA literature. It’s refreshing, enlightening, and something we need more of.
If you’ve read both of Nicola Yoon’s books and are on the hunt for more reads with a similar feel and flair, we’ve got just the list for you. With the movie release of The Sun Is Also a Star in May, there’s no better time to fall in love with these heartwarming books about relationships, identity, and belonging.
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Featured image: Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton in The Sun Is Also a Star (2019) © MGM