Finding a young adult book without romance is no easy feat. Especially in February when everyone is lusting after romantic young adult novels to read. After all, crushes and first love are a huge part of growing up, and YA books would be remiss if they didn't delve into such a universal experience. And, of course, we all love a good swoon-worthy ship or two, especially when there are multiple romances in one book or series of books. It's hard not to obsess over living vicariously through romances that often combine fantasy, magic, and other aspects that you don't get in everyday life.
But sometimes, you just want to go into a book knowing that the love connections between characters are not going to be the biggest plot point. Books without romance can have a lot more time to focus on other important aspects of storytelling, like adventure, magic systems, fantasy worlds, or just something as simple as friendship and family life and coming of age in the real world.
Below are some of the rare young adult books for which romance is not a central plot and, in most cases, does not come into play at all. These stories run the gamut from political leaning to magical realism, mystery to contemporary. So, sit back, read, and fall in love with something other than a couple.
1'This Savage Song' by Victoria Schwab
Victoria Schwab's fantasy duology is well known for being free of romance. Focusing instead on a city at warn and overrun with monsters, this dark urban fantasy follows Kate Harker and August Flynn. Heirs to a divided city, they must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, and as goodhearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. This Savage Song focuses on ideas of what makes monsters of men, and what makes friends out of enemies.
2'The Lie Tree' by Francis Hardinge
Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel about knowledge and our pursuit of it, sometimes to our detriment. Our protagonist, Faith, has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot suppress. She soon discovers her disgraced father's journals — all filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger — for where lies seduce, truths shatter. This smart, sometimes eerie novel is perfect for anyone who wants to read about a mysterious, bookish girl in a weird and wonderful world.
3'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness
A Monster Calls is a gorgeous exploration of family and grief, no romance in sight. A monster shows up in Conor's life one midnight. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. This emotional novel, complete with mind-blowing illustrations, has made a huge splash in YA, even more so since the movie based on it was released in December 2016. If you're looking for some magical realism that focuses family dynamics and the complexity of emotions, this one's for you.
4'All American Boys' by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reynolds's and Kiely's moving portrayal of police brutality and its aftermath definitely has enough to concern itself with without including romance. After a woman trips over Rashad at the store, making him drop a bag of chips, a cop thinks he's stealing. And it doesn't matter what Rashad said next — that it was an accident, that he wasn’t stealing—because the cop just kept pounding him. Over and over, pummeling him into the pavement. Soon Rashad in stuck in a hospital room. And Quinn, a white kid, saw it all. He saw his best friend’s older brother beating the daylights out of a classmate. At first Quinn doesn’t tell a soul… He’s not even sure he understands it. And does it matter? The whole thing was caught on camera, anyway. But when the school — and nation — start to divide on what happens, blame spreads like wildfire fed by ugly words like “racism” and “police brutality.” Quinn realizes he’s got to understand it, because, bystander or not, he’s a part of history. He just has to figure out what side of history that will be. This timely book is moving for reasons that don't include romance.
5'Jackaby' by William Ritter
Billed as Doctor Who meets Sherlock, William Ritter's YA novel features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with humor and a healthy dose of the macabre. And refreshingly, his assistant does not become his romantic interest. Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary — including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police deny. Perfect for fans of an eerie occult mystery without a focus on romance.
6'The Walls Around Us' by Nova Ren Suma
This weird, wild magical realism book is all about female friendships, dance, and the horrible things people can do to each other. On the outside, there's Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there's Amber, locked up for so long she can't imagine freedom. Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls' darkest mysteries…What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one? This supernatural tale of guilt and innocence and what happens when one is mistaken for the other is shocking, smart, and totally unromantic.
7'Challenger Deep' by Neal Shusterman
This celebrated YA novel takes a heartfelt look at mental illness with no focus on romance. Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior. He is designated the ship's artist in residence, to document the journey with images and pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head. Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny. This captivating and powerful novel that will stay with you long after the last page, and not because you're squealing over a new obsession worthy romance.
8'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky
While there are some glimmers of future romance and secondary characters with significant others, this beloved YA book focuses in entirely on Charlie and his letters, on his struggles with his past, his present mental health, and unsure visions for his future. Charlie is shy, introspective freshman who is intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward. He is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. We follow along as Charlie attempts to navigate his way through first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and finding that one perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. A deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will take you back to the poignant days of growing up and figuring out who you are, with or without a romance.
9'Code Name Verity' by Elizabeth Wein
This historical fiction book focuses on two female pilots, best friends, and enemy agents in WWII and what happens when they're captured. When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. They'll get the truth out of her. But it won’t be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy? This harrowing and beautifully written YA book takes a visceral look at danger, resolve, and survival and reveals just how far true friends will go to save each other. Focusing on the bonds of female friendship this is an extraordinary tale of fortitude in the face of the ultimate evil.