The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Suggested grade level listed with each entry
All Kinds of Kisses by Nancy Tafuri (Little)
This animal sounds concept book opens with a panoramic view of a bustling farm. The text, accompanied by bucolic close-up watercolors, describes the type of kisses each animal loves (“Little Calf loves Mooo kisses”). Grade level: PS. 32 pages.
Old Bear and His Cub by Olivier Dunrea (Philomel)
What distinguishes this bedtime-friendly daddy-loves-you book is its degree of acknowledged reciprocity. Old Bear may stare hard at Little Cub until he eats his porridge, but when Old Bear catches a cold, he (grudgingly) gives in to Little Cub’s orders. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.
Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story written by Kara LaReau; illus. by Scott Magoon (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Mr. Prickles, a porcupine, has good reason to be prickly: the other forest animals spurn his many friendly overtures. A pun-filled text shines a sympathetic light on the lonely protagonist, while playful illustrations bring out the best in the spiky hero. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Sunday Love by Alison Paul (Houghton)
Sound effects and red, black, and white illustrations tell this story of Bruno the Burglar’s Valentine’s Day escape from prison to reunite with his true love — a sundae love, that is. Much of the appeal lies in the cinematic, Charlie Chaplinesque action. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Bear in Love written by Daniel Pinkwater; illus. by Will Hillenbrand (Candlewick)
Bear finds a present on the rock outside his cave. He solves the mystery of his secret admirer by leaving gifts of his own and waiting to see who comes to claim them. Soft earth-toned illustrations are a perfect match for the child-friendly text. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.
Suggested grade level for all entries: 4–6
The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry (Bloomsbury)
This Cinderella-inspired story features a resourceful heroine eager to change her fate and far more action than the traditional version. Readers will enjoy the touch of the familiar, but will still be surprised — and satisfied — by the twist at the end. 308 pages.
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins/Cotler)
Naomi falls immediately under strange boy Finn’s spell. Meanwhile, an old woman and her companion talk of murder and revenge. A plethora of connections and coincidences are tied together by Naomi’s painful honesty as she experiences all-consuming first love. 226 pages.
The Boy on Cinnamon Street by Phoebe Stone (Scholastic/Levine)
When pizza delivery boy Benny drops off a love note with Louise’s pie, her initial puzzlement develops into a full-blown crush. Friends Reni and Henderson help Louise deal with her feelings — and with the trauma she can’t quite remember. 236 pages.
Suggested grade level for all entries: 7 and up
Girl from Mars by Tamara Bach; trans. by Shelley Tanaka (Groundwood)
Fifteen-year-old Miriam is bored to death in her small German town. Then she starts hanging out with Laura, sorting through a (mutual) attraction, and wondering what it means to love another girl. A nuanced portrait of small-town ennui and self-awakening. 180 pages.
David Inside Out by Lee Bantle (Holt/Ottaviano)
David begins a furtive sexual relationship with his teammate Sean. But Sean’s denials of his homosexuality begin to weigh on David, who questions whether their relationship will ever evolve. A refreshing contribution to the “coming out” genre. 184 pages.
Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles by Arne Bellstorf; trans. by Michael Waaler (Roaring Brook/First Second)
This quiet, atmospheric biographical graphic novel depicts the brief, intense love affair between Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe — the man known as “The Fifth Beatle.” 199 pages.
Kendra by Coe Booth (Scholastic/Push)
Kendra, fourteen, lives with her strict but loving grandmother. Hot guy Nashawn has Kendra doing things that shame as well as excite her. Does Nashawn love her? Kendra’s present-tense narration is intelligent and honest, grounded by her basic common sense. 293 pages.
Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers (Abrams/Amulet)
The unnamed seventy-five-year-old narrator, a famous author, agrees to dyslexic Karl impress his book-loving girlfriend. While the author helps Karl work through much more than just his dating problems, Karl gives him impetus to write again after his wife’s death. 279 pages.
What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (Viking)
Mclean’s dad’s job sends the two of them to a new place every few months, allowing Mclean to continually reinvent herself. In their latest town, she tells the boy next door her real name — a strong hint that she may finally be home. 403 pages.
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick (Dial)
Samantha’s type-A state senator mother has always warned her to stay away from the boisterous Garrett family next door. But Samantha falls in love with Jase — and the rest of the Garretts. The ensuing moral quandary is handled capably and with empathy. 398 pages.
Pinned by Sharon G. Flake (Scholastic)
Ninth-grader Autumn is great at wrestling and cooking, not reading. Her forthright, colloquial chapters alternate with Adonis’s. Born without legs, Adonis manages the school wrestling team, and Autumn unabashedly loves him despite his prickly superiority. 231 pages.
A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen)
In this update of “Sleeping Beauty,” Princess Talia is awakened by Jack, a Florida teen — then demands he take her home with him. Flinn builds a credible, magical romance between these two vastly different (and highly entertaining) characters. 371 pages.
After the Moment by Garret Freymann-Weyr (Houghton)
Leigh meets Maia, a recovering anorexic and cutter with a highly developed sense of self. They fall in love, but readers know up front that their romance is doomed. This engaging male-coming-of-age tale explores notions of violence, devotion, and trust. 329 pages.
Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey (HarperTeen)
The women in Wren’s family manifest magical powers when they reach puberty. Wren uses hers to bring her boyfriend back from the dead, but the Danny who returns is a shadow of the boy she loved. Then Wren meets Gabriel, who’s drawn by her gift. 295 pages.
The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George (Viking)
Out lesbian Jesse is so in love with closeted bisexual Emily, student council vice president, that she agrees to keep their relationship a secret. Esther, a teenage political activist, awakens a true political spirit in Jesse. The narrative alternates among all three girls’ points of view. 263 pages.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton)
This funny, heartbreaking novel is a lot of things: acerbic comedy, sexy romance, and extended meditation on life and death. Hazel and Augustus meet in a cancer support group and quickly develop a relationship that’s as profoundly intellectual as it is emotional and physical. 321 pages.
Stay with Me by Paul Griffin (Dial)
She’s a bright student, he’s a high school dropout; her family is loving, while his dad is abusive. Despite their differences, Céce and Mack fall in love. Their romance is cut short when Mack makes an impetuous decision. A subtle level of optimism balances this painful story. 293 pages.
Warped by Maurissa Guibord (Delacorte)
When modern-day teenager Tessa pulls a loose thread from an old tapestry, Will, a handsome, imperious young man from sixteenth-century England, appears. Charismatic heroine Tessa’s story is suspenseful, romantic, and funny. 341 pages.
Markus and the Girls by Klaus Hagerup; trans. by Tara Chace (Front)
Junior high student Markus has fallen in love fifteen times in two months. His friend Sigmund volunteers to be a go-between for Markus, who’s too shy to approach his latest love object. This romp of Shakespearean comedic complexity has a healthy dose of slapstick. 208 pages.
Illyria by Elizabeth Hand (Viking)
This atmospheric novel portrays illicit sexual love and theatrical talent as matters nearly sacred. Cousins Maddy and Rogan are the last of their family’s theatrical legacy. The lovers are torn apart when glamorous Aunt Kate chooses Maddy to attend acting school in London. 136 pages.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler; illus. by Maira Kalman (Little)
Min is a quirky aspiring filmmaker; Ed’s a popular jock. Their breakup centers this unique novel, posed as a letter Min is writing to Ed. She’s also planning to leave a box of tokens of their relationship on his doorstep. Spare illustrations complement the accomplished prose. 355 pages.
The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett (Candlewick)
This poignant, bittersweet fable tells of a young boy, an old woman, and the strange, ethereal young man she loved. Masterful prose and a keen understanding of human nature create a melancholy air of frustrated romance. 176 pages.
The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman (Scholastic)
June has little intention of getting close to anyone after her family moves Minneapolis — they won’t be there long. Yet there’s something about Wes that keeps him stuck in her head. The characters’ chemistry practically burns holes through the page. 282 pages.
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner (Dial)
Seventeen-year-old Cass is devastated by her best friend Julia’s death. Cass takes off on a cross-country bike trip; later, back home, she struggles to mend fences with her nemesis (and love interest) Heather, star of a play Julia had been writing. 263 pages.
The Heights by Brian James (Feiwel)
This revisioning of Wuthering Heights is set in contemporary San Francisco. Through alternating first-person narration, readers follow popular Catherine toward her tragic fate, while Heathcliff-stand-in Henry spirals from sensitive, lovelorn boy to violent, self-destructive brute. 247 pages.
Ever by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins)
Olus, god of the winds, falls in love with Kezi, whose father pledged her life in forfeit to the god Admat. Admat gives no sign of his existence, leaving the lovers to wonder if the sacrifice is truly necessary — a quandary sure to provoke discussions about faith. 244 pages.
Every Day by David Levithan (Knopf)
“A” wakes up in a different sixteen-year-old’s body every morning; bodies match his/her age and A never travels far geographically unless the host body does. But what happens when A falls in love? A profound exploration of what it means to love someone. 325 pages.
Ash by Malinda Lo (Little)
Ash first meets handsome fairy Sidhean, then forms an unlikely friendship — and falls in love —with the king’s huntress, Kaisa. The juxtaposition of Kaisa and Sidhean as Ash’s suitors invites readers to consider the constructs of romantic ideals. Don’t miss prequel Huntress. 265 pages.
Dark Water by Laura McNeal (Knopf)
Pearl starts an illicit relationship with Amiel, an undocumented migrant laborer. When fire consumes southern California, Pearl abandons her family to warn Amiel. McNeal captures the desperation of both love and survival with wrenching authenticity. 289 pages.
The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli (Dutton)
Elisabetta begins a secret courtship with Giuliano Medici. Their romance plays out against political intrigue, familial loyalty, and betrayal. Sensory descriptions and period detail establish depth of character for the woman who will become the subject of the Mona Lisa. 260 pages.
Recovery Road by Blake Nelson (Scholastic)
Narrator Maddie, full of anger and loathing, is sixteen and in rehab when she meets Stewart, with whom she feels an immediate connection. After rehab, Maddie rebuilds her life while Stewart returns to drugs. Readers will root for the characters in their respective battle. 310 pages.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins/Harper)
The government has created a cure for the “deadly” disease amor deliria nervosa — a.k.a. love. Lena, counting the days until her “procedure,” is clearly destined to fall in love; enter amber-eyed Alex as the romantic hero. The story continues in Pandemonium. 442 pages.
Past Perfect by Leila Sales (Simon Pulse)
Chelsea’s family works as living history interpreters. Things get awkward when she traitorously falls for a boy working at the village’s rival. Acerbically funny Chelsea offers specifics about Colonial life (and the lives of interpreters) and meditations on heartbreak and love. 306 pages.
I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Little)
Emily has a comfortable life with her middle-class parents; Sam and his younger brother are abused by their father. Regardless of circumstance, Emily and Sam feel an instant connection. An affirming exploration of the subtleties of love, compassion, and relationships. 392 pages.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (Little/Poppy)
On a flight to London, where she’s grudgingly going for her father’s wedding, seventeen-year-old Hadley meets charming Brit, Oliver. After a world-altering kiss, she loses Oliver in the crowd. Determined Hadley anchors this poignant consideration of loss, fate, and love. 241 pages.
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (Little)
Art student Karou seems normal enough — but she lives with chimaera, animal-human hybrids. When Karou meets angel Akiva, the two are drawn into the age-old war between chimaera and angels. This star-crossed romance continues in Days of Blood & Starlight. 422 pages.
What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson (Delacorte)
James longs to leave Tuscaloosa; his brother Alex also feels discontented. The catalyst is James’s friend Nathen, who sees Alex’s potential as a runner. Alex and Nathen become friends, then boyfriends, in a tender exploration of first love. 295 pages.
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (Little)
Outcast Jennifer remakes herself into stylish “Jenna”; then her childhood pal, Cameron, reappears. The friends reconnect with a natural, bittersweet intimacy that tugs at the heartstrings as Jenna comes to terms with her secrets and insecurities. 217 pages.
All These Things I’ve Done [Birthright series] by Gabrielle Zevin (Farrar)
In 2083, Anya and Win are “star-crossed lovers and all of that.” She’s the daughter of a New York City crime boss; he’s the assistant district attorney’s son. Anya’s earnest voice and blend of strength and innocence will attract readers. 354 pages.
Suggested grade level listed with each entry
Partly Cloudy: Poems of Love and Longing by Gary Soto (Harcourt)
Soto presents seventy-seven original poems about teenage love. Divided into two sections, “A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs” and “A Boy’s Body, His Words,” the free-verse poems all ring true: rich with image, accessible and believable. 100 pages.