10 Young Adult Romance Novels Feminists Will Swoon Over
Many people do not believe that "feminism" and "romance novels" can exist in the same sentence. And, as with any category of fiction, there of course are problem areas, but romance, even YA romance, is often unfairly categorized as "trashy," which any romance fan would be quick to correct you on. Trust me, there are plenty of young adult romance novels that feminists can put their hearts into.
Yes, there is a problematic issue of "insta-love," when characters fall in immediate, all-consuming love when they barely know each other. But heck, that's nothing new; it's been around since Shakespeare's time with Romeo & Juliet (those crazy teens!) and arguably even much before.
And there are issues in some romance novels (keyword: some) where the woman is clearly the second-class citizen of the relationship and just cannot exist without the man in her life. There's also the the bad-boy-turned-good-with-proper-girl trope that haunts loads of romance novels that, trust me, just isn't authentic to real life.
But there are young adult romance novels feminists can read and enjoy wholeheartedly. To cordon off an entire genre would be silly and, really, only cause you to miss out on some epic stories. These 10 books, though not all marketed as "romance," have swoon-worthy love stories and are a great place to start.
Ash by Malinda Lo
The couple: Ash and Kaisa
In Malinda Lo's beautiful retelling of Cinderella, AKA "Ash," our heroine falls in love with the huntsman, not Prince Charming, and the huntsman is a huntress named Kaisa. Ash had always believed in the fairy tales, that one day the fairy prince would come and save her, and he did. The dark prince fairy Sidhean does save her from her cruel stepmother, but it's when she instead meets Kaisa and builds a relationship that her heart opens up and she starts to believe in real love outside of the fairy tales.
What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
The couple: Gwen Castle & Cassidy "Cass" Somers
What I Thought Was True isn't the idyllic summer love story the cover may make it out to be. Both Gwen and Cass are grounded in real life and real responsibilities every step of the way as they fall in love over the course of a summer, and it's as raw and hard and confusing as love can be in real life. There's strong divisive issues in their relationship over class — Cass is wealthy and Gwen is the type of local island girl that works for people like Cass — and Fitzpatrick doesn't gloss over it in a stereotypical way. The same goes for the issue of sex. But man, you are going to swoon.
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
The couple: Fatima & Samiullah
Atia Abawi has spent significant time in Afghanistan as a foreign news correspondent, so everything about this forbidden love story is based in reality. Fatimia is Hazara and Samiullah is Pashtun, two peoples who have been in bitter conflict for generations. Against the backdrop of horrific violence, Fatimia and Samiullah's love shows the beauty of their home country and a piece of hope for themselves and Afghanistan's future.
Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti
The couple: Ruby McQueen & Travis Becker
Though a tumultuous romance, Ruby McQueen learns about those three terms of endearment, and she know knows that she'll only commit to a love where she means more than just the hollow words of "honey," "baby," and "sweetheart." And even more romantic than Ruby's relationship with the bad boy Travis, is the subplot about a tragic love story between a woman in Ruby's mother's book club and her lost partner.
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
The couple: Liza Winthrop & Annie Kenyon
Annie on My Mind is one of the most frequently banned books, so you know it's good. It centers on two NYC teenage women, Liza and Annie — the former an upper-class private school girl and the latter who lives in a downtrodden neighborhood with her immigrant parents. They meet at the Met, because it's perfect and form a friendship that grows into a big love, which doesn't sit well with some of the more conservative adults around them. (Much like this book in general, actually.)
Graceling by Kristen Cashore
The couple: Katsa & Prince Po
Katsa is a badass, bottom line. In this fantasy novel, our heroine was graced with the skill of killing, and she definitely knows how to use it. And it's not like she needs a man in her life, but when she meets Prince Po they forge a strong bond of friendship, beginning as sparring partners and slowly realizing their feelings for each other. And the relationship never takes over her whole life (though you will root for them); she focuses her time on training the young women of her land to defend themselves.
He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander
The couple: Omar "T-Diddy" Smalls & Claudia Clarke
T-Diddy and Claudia bond over social justice, a passion Claudia has held for ages and it's her passion that pulls in T-Diddy. T-Diddy is a football jock who can get any girl he wants. Claudia has zero interest in that, what drives her is standing up for the poor and disenfranchised and working hard enough to get into college. But when they come together, it gets seriously hot. All that passion has to go somewhere.
Forever by Judy Blume
The couple: Katherine Danziger & Michael Wagner
Judy Blume taught us basically everything about growing up, and in Forever we learned that "forever" didn't always mean that, but that was OK. Just the fact that Blume was able to write a book so candid and honest about losing your virginity puts it on this list, but it's Katherine's genuine, real-life reaction to (spoiler alert) breaking up with someone after having sex for the first time that makes it a lock. Plus, Katherine uses birth control, which the book-banners just hate.
A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller
The couple: Victoria Darling & Will Fletcher
When the title is a reference to Queen Victoria's speech against women's rights — "this mad, wicked folly of Women’s Rights with all its attendant horrors on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feelings and propriety.” — you know you're in for a different kind of romance story. It's London 1909, and teen artist Victoria has "shamed" herself by posing nude in an art class, especially because she's betrothed to be married, in a set-up by her parents. But it's when she falls for another artist, the low class Will that the story really pick up as two people ahead of their time try to make it work in their own era.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The couple: Duh, Eleanor Douglas & Park Sheridan
Of course Rainbow Rowell's celebrated Eleanor & Park deserves a spot on this list. The two teenagers are smart and witty, and when they fall in love, they know that first love never really lasts. But, they're also hopefully enough to give it a good shot. Eleanor and Park are true equals in the relationship, supporting each other, picking each other up, and falling for the truest versions of themselves.