Looking to get swept away or to think about love’s deeper meaning? Lighthearted or serious, set in the U.S. or Iran, these four books will leave older YAs breathless for love. For more recommendations, see “What Makes a Good YA Love Story?” from the May/June 2013 Horn Book Magazine.
When high school senior Hayley Kincain moves back to town with her PTSD-afflicted veteran dad, she starts to realize that she has gaps in her memory, and that the memories she’s been suppressing are dangerous ones. She gets close to sweet, “adorkable” classmate Finn; he is smart enough to take it slow, and as she falls for him he even coaxes her to dare to think about a future. In her latest, eagerly awaited YA novel The Impossible Knife of Memory, author Laurie Halse Anderson has the inside track on the emotional lives of adolescents, and the novel’s theme is woven artfully throughout as both Hayley and her dad fight the flashes of memory that are sure to tear them apart unless they confront them once and for all. (Viking, 14–17 years)
In Sara Farizan’s unique debut novel If You Could Be Mine, seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend Nasrin for years, but the girls live in Iran, where their love is illegal. That hasn’t kept them from being together, but now Nasrin has accepted a marriage proposal, and in desperation Sahar pretends to be transgendered (sexual reassignment, while stigmatized, is legal) in order to stay with Nasrin. Farizan imbues characters and relationships with depth and complexity, especially when it comes to the cracks in Nasrin and Sahar’s romance that have nothing to do with restrictive laws and everything to do with Nasrin’s self-absorption. First love is the heart of the matter here; even as readers learn about an unfamiliar culture, they will recognize the universal dynamics of a struggling relationship. (Algonquin, 14–17 years)
Kwame Alexander’s He Said, She Said is a lighthearted, socially conscious romance. After leading the team to a state championship, quarterback Omar Smalls has the West Charleston High student body eating out of his hand. Claudia Clarke — sharp, opinionated, and Harvard-bound — is the only girl in school who isn’t impressed, and Omar is determined to win her over. Inspired by stories from the civil rights movement activists who hang around his uncle’s community center, Omar rallies his classmates with speeches and organizes a sit-in to protest budget cuts and teacher layoffs. His burgeoning social awareness and transformation from carefree jock to campus leader are satisfying and convincing, making Claudia’s thaw all the more believable. The will-they-or-won’t-they courtship is familiar teen-comedy fare, but Claudia and Omar are a couple worth rooting for. (HarperTeen/Amistad, 14–17 years) For more recommended books starring African American protagonists, see our Black History Month booklist.
Rainbow Rowell‘s Fangirl is a sophisticated novel that will captivate nerds, romantics, and book lovers alike. College freshman Cather Avery struggles with the changes college brings: moving away from home, leading a separate life from her identical twin sister Wren, and doing anything at all beyond obsessively working on the Simon Snow series (think Harry Potter) fanfiction she and Wren used to write together. But as Cath’s first year progresses, she is continually pushed outside her comfort zone: by her snarky roommate, Reagan; by her writing professor; by Levi, Reagan’s ex-boyfriend with the smiles and floppy hair — and eventually Cath’s first love interest. As she did in the 2013 Boston Globe–Horn Book winner Eleanor & Park, Rowell transitions seamlessly between Cath’s strong interior voice and clever dialogue to fully develop Cath’s complex personality. (St. Martin’s Griffin, 14–17 years)
From the February 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.