Understanding the emotional and sexual complexities of romantic relationships often comes through a gradual process of education, experimentation, and rehearsal, and coincides with all the other anxieties, epiphanies, and firsts of adolescence. These four distinctive novels present young love amid the tumult.
In A. S. King’s Ask the Passengers, Astrid would be the quintessential Q-for-Questioning in her LGBTQ support group if her small-minded school had such a thing, but the gay question is only one of many on her mind. Searching for answers, Astrid lifts up her concerns and her love to the passengers on passing airplanes. After deciding not to live closeted — and introducing girlfriend Dee to her family — she sends one final message skyward in a fine conclusion to this coming-out-and-of-age novel. (13 years and up, Little)
In Audrey Couloumbis’s refreshingly sweet and nostalgic novel Not Exactly a Love Story, Vinnie develops a crush on his new next-door neighbor, Patsy, but doesn’t have the courage to ask her out. When he finds her (unlisted) number, Vinnie seizes his chance and calls her every night around midnight. On the phone Vinnie and Patsy enjoy a flirty chemistry, and their in-person relationship also gradually develops. The 1970s setting, with its lack of cell phones, allows for a sense of anticipation to build around Vinnie and Patsy’s nightly calls. (13 years and up, Random)
Brenna Yovanoff’s Paper Valentine begins in the city of Ludlow during a suffocating heat wave and a series of mysterious murders. Lillian, Hannah’s best friend who died from anorexia, now haunts Hannah’s every move. As Hannah investigates the killings, she also begins a relationship with mysterious delinquent Finny Boone, giving her new confidence and strength to stand up for herself and to Lillian. This is equal parts taut sleuthing, ghost story, and coming-of-age novel. (11 years and up, Razorbill/Penguin)
Laura Buzo’s debut novel, Love and Other Perishable Items, delves into the romantic lives of both an adolescent and a youngish adult. Fifteen-year-old Amelia is smitten with her supermarket co-worker Chris (twenty-one). Her first-person narration alternates with Chris’s letters and journal entries, so readers are also privy to his growing attraction to “Youngster,” as he calls her. Like Amelia, readers will fall for Chris, but will they appreciate that he’s decent enough to realize that dating her would be inappropriate? (13 years and up, Knopf)