14th February. For some of us, this is a day of love and for soppy collages with your partner plastered all over social media. For others, there’s more excitement about 15th February when all the chocolate goes on sale. Love it or loathe it, you can’t avoid Cupid’s looming presence; Valentine’s Day is on the way. Books about love are in abundance, but we’ve all read The Fault in Our Stars or Pride and Prejudice. This reading list is about finding books about love which aren’t as cliché but will nonetheless inspire your inner romantic, or just a good giggle if romance isn’t your cup of tea. Classics you may not have read, books featuring LGBT characters, people of colour and non-neurotypical protagonists will all make an appearance to inspire you to read outside of the mainstream canon of love literature. Don’t worry, I can assure you Fifty Shades of Grey will not be making an appearance on this list.
Atonement by Ian McEwan – A reinvention of the typical “love in a time of war” trope. The chemistry between Cecilia and Robbie is undeniable, but a misunderstanding on the part of Briony, Cecilia’s younger sister, sees their relationship take a turn. A story in three parts of a love which should be idyllic, but circumstances beyond their control prove to make this romance difficult. This novel explores the magic of writing and how stories can both make and break a person’s life, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. A real tear jerker and proof that love transcends worldly boundaries. The question of family love versus romantic love is toyed with and McEwan’s clever writing style evokes a cinematic feel with all the events and characters being crafted so perfectly that they come to life on the page.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – I know I promised a list without clichés, but this novel will always have a special place in my heart. The film adaptation is good, but nothing can top the rawness of the novel and the clever narrative through the lens of mental health and trauma. Charlie, our protagonist, searches for love and friendship whilst struggling with social anxiety, depression and PTSD. This is a raw exploration of growing up and trying to find your place in the world. Romantic love, friendship and familial bonds are all put to test in this novel. If classic rom-coms are your go to genre, this is a must read. Get ready to feel the nostalgic desire to make a loved one a mix tape.
Looking for Alaska by John Green – I wanted to avoid the cliché of The Fault in Our Stars but I felt like I was doing teenage romance a disservice by omitting John Green from this list completely. Looking for Alaska is my personal favourite John Green novel. This book captures exactly how I imagine boarding school in America (unlike in the UK where I just think of Harry Potter). Miles, nicknamed Pudge, explores teenage lust and love, with episodes of disastrous experimentation that will make you laugh along the way. From falling in love with friends and sexual experimentation to heartbreak, this novel explores the turmoil of being a teenager with feelings that are new and hard to come to terms with.
Love Poems by Anne Sexton– Don’t let the title fool you, this collection is included in my list for the cynics amongst us who hate Valentine’s Day. Sexton’s poems explore the female position in relation to love, predominantly love of her own body. Sexton celebrates female sexuality in “The Touch”, “The Kiss” and “In Celebration of my Uterus.” Rather than being a typical collection about a woman’s devotion to a man, this collection is a woman’s devotion to her body through an exploration of sexuality. These poems are full of clever subversions and are perfect for some female solidarity and self-love this Valentine’s day.
Tess of the D’urbevilles by Thomas Hardy– I wanted to include a classic in my list but avoid the cliché of Jane Austen. This novel is one of my top three favourite stories of all time, praise I don’t use lightly. It’s not a romance, per say, but it is heart wrenching. If you fancy destroying your view on love before Valentine’s day, give this a read. It’s love at first sight when Tess meets Angel, a handsome stranger at a dance. When Tess is forced to open up to Angel about her troubling past, his response sees her life plunged into turmoil. The hardships of being a woman in a patriarchal society and the fundamentals of the misogynistic marriage market are explored throughout the novel, challenging the idea that love at first sight has no bound. No one is as “pure” as they seem.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – Valentine’s Day is far too heteronormative, so I wanted to draw attention to some LGBT+ literature on love. This novel has bisexual representation depicts the struggle to accept your sexuality while surrounded by homophobia. From casual relationships to a deep and meaningful love connection, David tries to make sense of his feelings whilst battling internalised homophobia. David’s affair with Giovanni is intense, passionate and tainted by jealousy. How can love prevail in a society so full of hatred and pain which rages inside of David?
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – A coming of age LGBT romance, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is the novel which inspired the box office hit Love, Simon. This novel lives up to the hype the film generated. Teenager Simon is firmly in the closet, but when an email to his pen pal falls into the wrong hands, threats are made to out him. Simon is blackmailed into playing wingman for Martin out of fear that his secret will be revealed. This novel is hilariously witty and Simon’s internal monologue feels so relatable and had me stifling laughter. By the end of the novel you feel a part of their friendship group. The troubles of being a teenager and in the closet are explored in an engaging way, showing how isolating hiding your sexuality is. This novel is brilliant for LGBT representation and is more mainstream than the other LGBT literature I’ve recommended, so if you really want to get into it then there are plenty of people talking.
What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli– A series of “what ifs” is brewing in this heartwarming story about star crossed lovers. Or are they star crossed lovers? Is the universe throwing Arthur and Ben together when they meet in the post office? Or is this the beginning of another heartbreak? The co-authoring in this novel is clever as it gives Arthur and Ben two distinctive voices given the authors’ different styles. This novel covers the three areas I wanted to bring into this article: race, homosexuality and mental health. This is cleverly blended into a quirky and heart wrenching love story. If you want a diverse modern romance, this novel is for you.
Behind the Bars by Brittainy C. Cherry– Love, Jazz and racial representation. Jasmine and Elliot bond over their love of music, both becoming each other’s hope in a hopeless world. This novel plays into the cliché that opposites attract but does so in a beautiful way. These lovers are polar opposites due to their upbringing and current circumstances, showing that love knows no bounds and music unites souls. This novel is so touching, depicting two individuals whom life has broken down coming together. Whilst love cannot fix the past, the healing process are moving; make sure you have tissues handy if you read this.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang – A story from the perspective of an autistic woman trying to find love, written by an author with ASD, this novel is wonderful for representation. Stella’s aversion to the sexual elements of romance sees her hire escort Michael to teach her everything about sexuality. Be warned, this novel is quite graphic and explicit in its discourse, nonetheless it is raw and real. The realism of sexuality is what makes this novel so pertinent. It avoids the clichés of being swept off your feet, and instead explores awkwardness, confusion and most importantly consent. This is another romance novel which is wonderful for representation and includes people of many races, members of the LGBT+ community and people with autism.
If a real life romance isn’t on the cards for you, don’t dismay; these books won’t let you down. Crack open a bottle of wine, cook a nice meal and get to know your date. Why not go on multiple dates in the evening, play the field a little. I’m sure you’ll find a match made in heaven somewhere on this list. You can call me Cupid of the literary world! If you’re not sure who’s your perfect match, why not try a blind date? You never know when you’ll find the book of your dreams.