8 YA Novels for Readers Who Love the Fake Dating Trope

Two characters enter a mutually beneficial agreement to pretend to date each other, then inevitably, feelings get involved. These YA novels are sure to delight romance fans who can’t get enough of the Fake Dating trope. 

Two characters enter a mutually beneficial agreement to pretend to date each other, then inevitably, feelings get involved. These YA novels are sure to delight romance fans who can’t get enough of the Fake Dating trope.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar. Page Street. May 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781645672579.
Gr 9 Up–Despite being the only two Bengali students in their Irish high school, popular, unassuming Hani and intimidating, ambitious Ishu are barely more than passing acquaintances. But when Hani needs to convince her friends of her bisexuality and Ishu needs to stir up votes for Head Girl, they strike a deal. This book is charming and packed with rich and nuanced depictions of Desi culture (Ishu and Hani’s families are significantly different despite their shared heritage). Whether drawn by the classic romance trope or the diverse representation, readers will appreciate how genuine Hani and Ishu’s growing affection feels. Each girl is easy to cheer for as her relationship becomes a tool for escaping the toxic patterns she was immersed in alone. Jaigirdar tactfully weaves universal teen struggles like gossip and jealousy with issues of biphobia, racist microaggressions, and Islamophobia. Some Irish references may be unfamiliar to American readers, but don’t weigh down the text. VERDICT A sweet queer romance with outstanding Desi representation. Recommended for all collections.–Amy ­Diegelman 

Unnecessary Drama by Nina Kenwood. Flatiron. Aug. 2023. 304p. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9781250894427.
Gr 9 Up–Brooke has a plan for everything. She worries and is anxious but thrives on organization and is eager for a new start at university in Melbourne. Then, she discovers that her former friend Jesse, who kissed then humiliated her at a high school party, is her housemate. She has no other housing option and their third housemate, Harper, granddaughter of the owners, has a rule—no unnecessary drama—so Brooke pretends everything is fine while cautioning Jesse to leave her alone. While she is determined to keep her distance from Jesse, his help when she experiences a ruptured ovarian cyst and general kindness lead her to reluctantly see that there is more to him than his casual cruelty when they were younger. Told from Brooke’s perspective, the novel captures the stresses of the early college experience of finding a friend group and discovering who you are as a “semi-adult.” Enemies-to-love, set-ups, fake-dating high jinks to make an ex jealous—this one has a bit of everything, and readers will enjoy going along for the ride. Brooke doesn’t drink; her older sister binge drinks and their absent father struggles with alcohol. Main characters cue white and there is LGBTQIA+ representation (the novel’s most stable relationship is Harper and her girlfriend, Penny). VERDICT A fun, breezy read that feels lighthearted but is multilayered, this one will appeal to YA and new adult readers, especially those ready to begin college. Enthusiastically recommended.–Amanda Mastrull

Flip the Script by Lyla Lee. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. May 2022. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062936936.
Gr 7 Up–Korean American Hana wants nothing more than to be a successful actress, especially since her parents moved with her from the U.S. to Seoul a few years ago to help her achieve this goal. So when she lands the lead in a highly anticipated new K-drama, she’s thrilled. Unfortunately, initial ratings for the show are lower than expected, so the producers come up with a solution—a fake relationship between Hana and the show’s male lead, K-pop star Bryan Yoon, to drum up more interest. Hana reluctantly agrees, but things quickly go awry—their dates are swarmed by enthusiastic fans, and Bryan seems like he might be developing some not-so-fake feelings for her. The producers introduce a new character into the show, and it turns out to be someone Hana knows quite well. Now she has to figure out maintaining her fake feelings for Bryan while developing some very real feelings for her new co-star, who happens to be a girl. This book is a love letter to Korean culture, K-dramas in particular; readers will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at K-drama production, visits to famous spots around Seoul, and mouth-watering descriptions of Korean food. At the same time, the story challenges the heteronormativity and unrealistic expectations placed on young celebrities in Korea. All the characters are Korean or Korean American, and Hana, Bryan, and their co-star, Minjee, are all queer. VERDICT This trope-filled rom-com is perfect for fans of Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, XOXO by Axie Oh, and I Guess I Live Here Now by Claire Ahn.–Alison Glass 

Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee. Random/Underlined. May 2023. 272p. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780593569955.
Gr 9 Up–Brooklynite Dylan Tang has a lot on his plate—between keeping his grade point average up in hopes of a scholarship and working at his aunt’s takeout restaurant, he barely has time to think about a relationship. That all changes when a delivery mistake introduces him to Theo Somers. Theo, a rebellious yet charming rich kid, convinces Dylan to take part in a fake dating scheme at an opulent family wedding in the Hamptons. Dylan finds himself struggling to suppress his growing feelings for Theo while figuring out a way to prevent the family restaurant’s impending eviction. Winning a mooncake-making contest could be the answer to his problems—that is, if he can figure out the secret ingredient in a treasured family recipe. This book injects the classic fake dating trope with a heavy dose of drama, which borders on unbelievable at times. While best suited for readers who can stand a little spectacle, the book also contains strong family themes, romantic moments, and cultural discussions surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival and the history of mooncakes. Dylan is Singaporean Chinese while Theo is biracial Chinese on his mom’s side with a white father. VERDICT In a heavily saturated market of fake dating and food-themed YA romances, consider this a secondary purchase where titles like Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story or Adiba Jaigirdar’s Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating are popular.–Mary Kamela

This Time It’s Real by Ann Liang. Scholastic. Feb. 2023. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338827118.
Gr 9 Up–Eliza Lin is a smart, quiet student who’s just trying to blend in at her international school. She doesn’t have many close friends, and it’s hard to make new ones because her mom’s job as a consultant for global companies means they uproot their lives every few years and move to a new country. She’s only had one friendship really stick, and the only other constant besides her family is her writing. When her English essay about a made-up boyfriend goes viral online, Eliza panics and does the only thing she can think of: ask her classmate, famous starlet Caz Song, to be her pretend boyfriend as part of a mutually beneficial agreement. It could lead to an internship with her favorite magazine for her, and polished college essays for him. But what happens when Eliza starts to develop real feelings for this complicated, adorably frustrating drama star? All her other friendships from her moves have fallen apart, and she’s worried this will, too. Liang has created a charming exploration of the “fake relationship” trope starring this lovable couple. The romance is full of tension and will have readers anticipating when the love interests will finally get together. The international school setting adds another intriguing layer. VERDICT A great choice for fans of romantic comedies.–Stacey Shapiro

The Borrow a Boyfriend Club by Page Powars. Delacorte. Sept. 2023. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593568583.
Gr 9 Up–Transfer student Noah Byrd is determined to join the most masculine club he can find, hoping the fresh start will enable him to avoid the transphobic microaggressions he suffered at his old high school. He stumbles upon the “Football and Lamborghini Club,” only to discover that it’s actually an elaborate front for the school’s best kept secret: the “Borrow a Boyfriend Club.” While he’s skeptical of a club run by cocky popular boys that rents out its members as fake dates, Noah realizes the group’s notoriety and entourage of fangirls (and boys) could actually be the perfect backdrop for Noah’s new beginning. But joining the club isn’t as easy as Noah had hoped. The club’s hard-headed leader Asher hasn’t accepted new members in years, and has implemented a series of impossible-seeming tasks for Noah to complete before he can be inducted. One task is to attempt to romance Asher himself, causing Noah to catch feelings with the person he thought he hated most. Raunchy and lighthearted, this book avoids the cliché of a trans student being outed; instead Powers lets Noah believably grapple with his own internalized transphobia, and his family’s acceptance. Ultimately the themes of trans joy, trust, and authenticity are at the heart of this funny and buoyant enemies-to-lovers rom-com. VERDICT Recommended for all libraries serving teens; this is one boyfriend they’ll want to borrow again and again.–Allison Staley 

Caught in a Bad Fauxmance by Elle Gonzalez Rose. Random/Joy Revolution. Dec. 2023. 320p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593645796; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780593645826.
Gr 7 Up–Rose’s debut novel is a wonderful and witty rom-com. It’s smartly written with funny, memorable scenes and the swooniest romantic lines. Devin Baez and Julian Seo-Cooke have been enemies forever. Every winter break their families meet up at Lake Andreas, but there have never been any happy campfire moments between them. These families have been rivals ever since Julian’s dad stole an idea from Dev’s father that made them rich and the Baez family was left struggling. And to add insult to injury, the Seo-Cookes cheat to win the town’s Winter Games every year. Now it’s finally time for the Baez family to have some revenge. They bet their cabin ownership that they will win the games this year. It’s a big gamble, but the perfect opportunity to spy on the Seo-Cooke family occurs when Julian asks Dev to be his fake boyfriend to deflect an unwanted suitor’s attention. Of course, chaos and love ensue. Dev wants to learn the Seo-Cooke family’s secrets to use against them during the games; but Julian is so different from the person Dev thought he was all these years. As barriers and misunderstandings start to crumble between them, Dev begins to learn a lot about the dysfunction behind the Seo-Cookes’s perfect family image and also learns about forgiveness, empathy, and love. VERDICT Innocent camp high jinks, siblings who care deeply for each other, family loss, Latinx and Asian representation, and a sweet hopeful LGBTQIA+ love story—this is a must-have for teen libraries everywhere.–Maria Ramusevic 

The Girl Next Door by Cecilia Vinesse. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. May 2023. 368p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063285873.
Gr 9 Up–High school couple Cleo and Daniel had their lives planned out: direct the school’s soap opera Dazed at Murrow Creek, get into NYU’s film program, and move to LA after college to make it big in the movie world. But their plans are thrown off course when Kiki, Daniel’s summer fling, enters the picture and steals his heart. Determined to stick to the plan, Cleo reaches out to Kiki’s ex-girlfriend and former BFF Marianne to fake date and realign the stars. Set in North Carolina, this romantic comedy follows a cast of high school students who are comfortable in their sexual orientations. Kiki and Cleo are both bisexual, Marianne and their friend Chris are gay, and the characters are represented in a lighthearted way. The story explores the chaos that ensues when relationships get complicated with exes and by feelings. Marianne is noted to be diagnosed with anxiety and OCD, although traits of these are rarely mentioned. This fast-paced story is highly character driven and includes a nod to fans of horror movies. VERDICT Solid choice for fans of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper and Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.–Anna Taylor

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing