Meet-Cutes Come in All Colors: 13 Irresistible YA Romances

Readers need diverse rom-coms where the love story comes first, where tenderness can blossom, and where happy endings are possible. These recent and upcoming books showcase the joy in the lives of teens of color, not just the pain.

 

A large proportion of YA love stories feature white teens. These stories are usually full of quirky characters and high school drama that highlights the cinematic “meet-cute” nature of teen love. In contrast, the YA love stories of teens of color and/or from marginalized communities tend to focus on the ways these teens are oppressed. This narrow focus on the ostracization that affects teens of color tends to promote the fictional narratives that fit that profile. Little room is left for a thorough examination of the sweet romances for teens of color.

While social commentary in YA literature is important, it is equally important for teens from diverse backgrounds to see their common humanity portrayed in the books they read. And their romances are both universal and unique: Universal because all teens need love and acceptance, and unique because teens of color who are in love are likely no strangers to racism and sexism.

While this list features characters and story lines from diverse ethnicities, there is still a need for more meet cutes that feature LGBTQ and disabled teens of color. We hope this will serve as the needed push the publishing industry might need to put out more inclusive rom-coms. Focusing on the softer elements of these teens’ love stories is not a denial of the problematic societal structures that affect them. Instead, it affirms that love still exists in the midst of these circumstances. The following titles are a reminder that all teens are worthy of soft words, tender gestures, and happily-ever-after. These reads showcase the joy in the lives of teens of color, not just the pain.

 

Yes, No, Maybe So coverAlbertalli, Becky and Aisha Saeed. Yes, No, Maybe So. Balzer + Bray. February 2020. ISBN 9780062937056.
GR 9 Up–Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman are roped into canvassing their neighborhood for an upcoming election. While her mother instigated Maya’s effort, the time Maya spends canvassing means she doesn’t have to focus on her parents' broken relationship or the way her bestie seems to be ghosting her. The two teens, one Jewish and one Muslim, bond over their love for The Office and each other's kindness. A beautiful relationship blossoms as Jamie and Maya help each other weather social media outbursts, broken friendships, and their different faiths.

Read-alike: Ahmed, Samira; Love, Hate & Other Filters.

 

Cuevas, Mayra. Salty, Bitter, Sweet. Blink. March 2020. ISBN 9780310769774.Salty, Bitter, Sweet cover
GR 8 Up–Isabelle Fields is a budding chef using the possibility of an internship with Chef Grattard as a distraction from the emotional upheaval of her fragmented life. Her father’s betrayal, the death of her beloved grandmother, and her mother’s heartbreak all fade into the background as she focuses on perfecting dishes. Isabelle’s single-minded focus begins to shift when she meets her stepmother’s stepson, Diego. Diego and Isabelle’s relationship is contentious at first but changes as the two learn more about each other. The way the two main characters work together to bring out the best in each other will ring true with teens who are also trying to figure out their own paths.

Read-alike: Acevedo, Elizabeth; With the Fire on High.

 

I Wanna Be Where You Are coverForest, Kristina. I Wanna Be Where You Are. Roaring Brook. June 2019. ISBN 9781250294883.
GR 7 Up–Chloe dreams of dancing with the new Avery Johnson dance company. Her recently healed broken ankle, her mother’s disapproval, and the destination of the audition make the possibility of trying out for the dance troupe nearly impossible. Chloe decides to take matters into her own hands and drive to the audition in Washington, D.C. Knowing Chloe’s mother’s overprotective tendencies, frenemy Eli anoints himself navigator for the road trip. As they approach their destination, the love and appreciation the characters show for each other’s chosen art forms lends a tenderness to this novel that makes the romance that much sweeter.

Read-alike: Goo, Maurene; The Way You Make Me Feel.

 

Giles, Lamar. Not So Pure and Simple. HarperTeen. January 2020. ISBN 9780062349194.Not So Pure and Simple cover
GR 9 Up–Del Rainey is a man on a mission. He’s willing to do anything, even join the purity pledge group at church, to get Keira Westing to notice him. Things quickly go sideways when the pastor of his church begins to ask for information about the health class Del attends at the local high school. Del begins to see his single-minded focus on Keira in a new light when his sister and another classmate highlight the sexism inherent in his pursuit. Del is a delightfully funny character who develops a healthier approach to relationships over the course of the novel. The author skillfully blends social commentary with humor in a way that makes the topic of toxic masculinity more accessible for teen readers.

Read-alike: Quintero, Isabel; Gabi: A Girl in Pieces.

 

Somewhere Only We Know coverGoo, Maurene. Somewhere Only We Know. May 2019. Farrar. ISBN 9780374310578
GR 9 Up–Catherine “Lucky” Nam is a Korean American rising K-pop star finishing a whirlwind tour in Hong Kong. Her world is knocked off its axis when a volatile mix of sleep and anxiety medication, and a desire for a hamburger, brings her into contact with Jack Lim, gifted photographer and tabloid paparazzo. They decide to spend the day together in Hong Kong with differing objectives, but their goals shift and change over the course of the day as they get to know each other better. The overarching theme of crafting the life you want, while making space for the unexpected, shines brilliantly in this novel.

Read-alike : De La Cruz, Melissa; 29 Dates.

 

Kann, Claire. If It Makes You Happy. Swoon Reads. June 2019. ISBN 9781250192677.If It Makes You Happy cover
GR 9 Up–Winnie Woodson has her dream summer in Misty Haven already planned. She’ll waitress at her grandmother’s restaurant, hang out with her ungirlfriend Kara, and watch over her little brother Winston, who is a budding chef. Winning Misty Haven’s Summer Queen contest and having her confusing crush, Dallas, as Misty Haven’s Summer King is not in the cards. Surprisingly, she finds that she and the Summer King have a magnetic attraction she wants to explore. This novel takes on the topic of love with an honesty that is refreshing.

Read-alike: Moreno, Nina; Don’t Date Rosa Santos.

[Read: Best Young Adult Books 2019]

I Love You So Mochi coverKuhn, Sarah. I Love You So Mochi. Scholastic. May 2019. ISBN 9781338302882
GR 9 Up–Kimi Nakamura,17, has painter’s block. When the grandparents she’s never met offer her an impromptu trip to Japan, Kimi jumps at the chance to put some distance between herself and the ambiguity she feels about her future at art school. In Japan she meets Akira, a mochi salesman studying medicine. Through the combined efforts of her grandparents and Akira, Kimi begins to consider a future she never could have imagined. The supportive connection forged between Akira and Kimi is crafted with a heart-melting tenderness.

Read-alike: Menon, Sandhya; When Dimple Met Rishi.

 

Masood, Syed. More Than Just a Pretty Face. Little, Brown. August 2020. ISBN 9780316492355. More Than Just a Pretty Face cover
GR 9 Up–
Danyal Jilani, 19, is Muslim American and he dreams of a future that includes owning his own restaurant and being with his long-time crush Kaval Sabvarsi. After a classroom outburst leads to him being chosen for the coveted Renaissance Man competition, Danyal enlists the help of Bisma Akram. Bisma is Danyal’s opposite in every way—nerdy, quiet, and reserved. This unlikely pair bonds over a series of clandestine meetings at libraries and greasy spoons. The author uses religion as a means to communicate the lovable attributes of both of the main characters.

Read-alike: Menon, Sandhya; There's Something about Sweetie.

 

Opposite of Always coverReynolds, Justin. Opposite of Always. Katherine Tegen Bks. March 2019. ISBN 9780062748379.
GR 8 Up–Sparks fly when Jack and Kate meet at a party but their love affair ends unexpectedly when Kate dies suddenly. This meet-cute is a love story about friendship. The romance between the two central characters is delightfully quirky and the “choose your own adventure” style of the story will keep readers engaged. 

Read-alike: Reynolds, Jason; The Boy In the Black Suit.

 

Safi, Aminah Mae. Tell Me How You Really Feel. Feiwel & Friends. Jun. 2019. ISBN 9781250299482.Tell Me How You Really Feel cover
Gr 9 Up–In this quick-witted feminist romance, brusque and artsy Rachel Recht, who is Jewish, and perfect cheerleader Sana Khan, who is Muslim, are forced to work together on a film project. As they collaborate, they discover their feelings for each other and examine what they want for their respective futures. The enemies-to-lovers story is as smart as it is heartwarming.

 

Williams, Ismee. This Train Is Being Held. Abrams/Amulet Books. February 2020. ISBN 9781419734939.This Train is Being Held cover
GR 9 Up–Alex has eaten, slept, and breathed baseball for as long as he can remember. His father believes excelling at the game is Alex’s ticket to a better life, and distractions like his interest in writing poetry are to be avoided at all costs. Isabelle Warren is a ballet dancer walking a tightrope that balances her impeccable façade with the devastating effects of her mother and brother’s mental instability. Alex’s and Isabelle’s worlds collide one fateful night on the subway; over the course of multiple rides the teens become a safe haven for each other. The bubble they’ve created bursts when the secrets they’ve been hiding from each other are exposed. Teen readers will recognize elements of their own relationships in Alex and Isabelle.

Read-alike: Ali, S. K.; Love from A to Z.

 

When You Were Everything coverWoodfolk, Ashley. When You Were Everything. Delacorte. March 2020. ISBN 9781524715915.
GR 9 Up–Cleo and Layla were the best of friends, until they weren’t. Layla has made a new friendship circle that slowly closed ranks and pushed Cleo out. Cleo decides that the best way to heal from a friendship break up is to create new memories in the places where her friendship with Layla was made. Cleo’s new relationships as well as a crush force her to examine her own inflexibility in such matters. This book explores the transient nature of friendship and will resonate with teens who have managed to make room for new friends in the midst of upheaval with others.

Read-alike: Ancrum, Kayla; The Weight of the Stars.

 

Yoon, David. Frankly in Love. Putnam. September 2019. ISBN 9781984812209.Frankly In Love cover
GR 9 Up–Frank Li is a Korean American teen who feels neither completely Korean nor completely American. His parents want him to get into a good school, become a businessperson, and marry someone Korean. His sister, Hannah, broke that trajectory and was ostracized by their parents. Frank decides to avoid a similar fate by enlisting the help of one of the Korean girls from his parents' friend group so they can both date other people. The transformation from friends to something more is guaranteed to melt reader’s hearts. 

Read-alike: Nguyen, Jenn P; Fake It Till You Break It.

 


Desiree Thomas has worked for libraries for 21 years and has been a librarian for the past 7 years. She is currently a youth services librarian at Worthington (OH) libraries. 

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