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It’s a common request among YA readers: aren’t there any good titles where romance isn’t a driving force in the book’s main story? For the most part, and for obvious reasons, romance plays a huge role in young adult genre novels. Youth! hormones! Imminent life changes! Sorry for being so melodramatic about things that don’t really matter in the long run! With a genre that caters mostly to young adults (although readers outside its age group are certainly still welcome), it’s hard to find stories where romance doesn’t make or break everything. Sometimes we want novels in which we can see ourselves wholeheartedly, and not everyone will find that in novels centered around the love of a teenage puppy.
But rest assured, although it can often be difficult to locate them, YA books with little or no romance do exist. The things I’ve collected here include several that quickly became a personal favorite of mine, which I have to think the lack of romance has something to do with it, as most YA romances have complete heterosexual bullshit. However, while the books on this list may or may not contain brief examples of romance, they are not the driving force of the novel and take a backseat to the more important events in the narrative. And we go away!
Cages List by Robin Rowe
Robin Rowe Cages List It follows two children who are reunited by the universe but still largely separated by circumstances. When Adam Blake found himself working as an assistant psychologist at his school in his senior year, he was expecting a free period to text his friends. What he didn’t expect was to track down Julian, the adopted brother he hadn’t seen in five years. What follows is a disturbing and sometimes disturbing depiction of how badly systems fail in children, and how the smallest amount of love and kindness goes to the furthest distance in the end.
black flamingo by Dean Atta
Growing up as a gay, mixed-race teen in London, Michael never felt like enough: not Jamaican enough, not Greek enough, not black enough, and definitely not masculine enough. But as he grows up and comes of age as an eccentric person, he begins to recognize the person he was always meant to be. Enter The Black Flamingo, his fierce character in tow, who is everything the world has taught him not to be. In order to free himself from the weight of the world’s expectations, Michael may soon learn how to embrace the power of being completely himself.
I stop somewhere by TE Carter
“There’s a nursery rhyme. You know it? It’s all about what makes a girl. We’re sugar and spice and everything nice, but that sounds like a cookie recipe. It just doesn’t sound like making a person.” In one of the most powerful and important YA novels of the past decade, T. E. Carter’s novel I stop somewhere It stops at nothing to expose the pervasive rape culture that continues to find ways to criminalize women and exonerate men. Bullied and tortured all through middle school, Elie Frias started her freshman year of high school with a new look: if she kept her head low and didn’t bother anyone, no one would bother her. But when a chance encounter with a friendly stranger turns to death, Ellie is cornered and condemned to torture for watching the same crimes happen to others. All she could do was wait and pray for someone to find her. The problem is, no one is looking for a girl they didn’t notice in the first place.
We will never part by Emiko Jan
in a We will never partEmiko Jean creates a quirky psychological thriller that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. 17-year-old Alice Munro commits to a psychiatric ward on Savage Isle, and it’s murder, fire, and revenge. Chased by memories of the fire that killed her boyfriend Jason – the fires started by her twin sister Celie – Alice feuds until she meets a charismatic stranger, Chase, who agrees to help her exact revenge. Alice begins to pour all her thoughts into a journal, and realizes that before we can face the future, we must first face the past.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
“I am a group of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the conductor of the ring, my soul is the trapeze artist, the world is my audience. It seems strange because it is, and it is, because I am a stranger.” Faced with the collapse of her family, Maim Malone is forced to move across the country with her father and new stepmother. But when Mim learns that her mother is no longer doing well in Ohio, she knows she has to go back to her. Following the masked protagonist through a backsplash of Greyhound buses and colorful characters on the road, Mim soon learns that demons from her childhood are in fact the ones catching her. What begins as a trip home becomes a transformation that will teach her what the mind really means and how everything is just a matter of perception.
split me together by Renee Watson
Raised on the belief that the only way to succeed in life is to escape her poor black neighborhood, Jade accepts a scholarship to a mostly white private school in an upscale area. She expected the transition to be difficult, but what she didn’t expect was her invitation to join a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls from “bad” neighborhoods. But Jade knows that she doesn’t need the support offered and is about to learn that just because her teacher is black also doesn’t mean they come from the same backgrounds or share the same worldviews. split me together It highlights the oppression that women of color often face and the ways our societies and culture still need improvement.
Tell the wolves I’m home by Carol Rivka Brent
While love is most of the driving force behind Karol Rivka Brent Tell the wolves I’m homeIt’s an unconventional type of love that is different from romance and immediately dangerous to include on this list. Not only Tell the wolves I’m home A required reading for anyone concerned about the AIDS crisis, but it also requires reading for introverts and certainly anxious introverts. It’s 1987, and the only friend 14-year-old John has in the world is her uncle Finn, a famous painter. Unable to adjust at school or with her older sister, Finn is the only person who understands June and makes her feel safe – not just her godfather, but her only close friend. But when Finn dies at a very young age from a disease that Jon’s mother can’t talk about, Jon is forced to confront all her hidden fears, anxieties, and feelings – with the help of a new friend who may just be her rescue. Grace or grace.
Dear Martin by Nick Stone
There was a time when Justyce McAllister was at the top of his class and preparing for the Ivy League, but none of that mattered to the white policeman who put him in handcuffs. Even after leaving his cruel neighborhood behind, it seemed that his reputation had never recovered. Thus, Justice decided to turn to the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for answers, questioning whether Dr. King’s wisdom and his own quest for answers still hold today. But none of this will prepare him for the day Justis and his friend Manny are caught in the crossfire of an angry exchange with an off-duty cop that will end up changing his life forever. A timely read in the age of Black Lives Matter, Nick Stone Dear Martin It seeks to educate about the racial hypocrisy that perpetuates today.
beast calls by Patrick Ness
Since his mother first fell ill, Connor has been dreaming the same dream every night. But tonight, something different happened. Tonight, there is a visitor at his window. It is an unexplainable force of nature. Just as it inexplicably seemed, he wanted the truth from Connor, about everything he was burying beneath the surface. What follows is a long-lasting tale of healing, hurt, and celebration of art.
Saving Montgomery Sol by Mariko Tamaki
When Montgomery Soul bought a powerful crystal amulet called the Eye of Knowledge online for $5.99, she didn’t expect it to come with instructions: “On the horizon you do not see, the black light is not. Once Monty begins wearing the Eye of Knowledge, she begins to notice that strange things are beginning to happen, all to the people she despise. As she begins to hope that the amulet will help her outsmart a new preacher who has arrived to rid the city of sinners, Monty realizes that the Eye of Knowledge may cost her. Everything she held dear to him – unless she learned how to truly harness her power.
What are your favorite YA books without any romance?