The best middle grade novels with romance

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always loved books, movies, and shows that feature swoony, satisfying romances. As a middle school teacher and upper middle-grade author, I know it can be tricky to find novels with romance for the middle-grade set. But I also know firsthand that there are many kids who crave these kinds of stories–and that there are major benefits to giving kids a chance to read and hopefully talk about crushes and relationships in all their complexity. I’m always on the lookout for realistic stories with just the right amount of romance to delight middle-grade readers, and these five are some of my favorites.

I wrote...

Keeping Pace

By Laurie Morrison,

Book cover of Keeping Pace

What is my book about?

Grace has been working for years to beat her former friend Jonah Perkins’s GPA so she can be named the eighth-grade top scholar. But when Jonah beats her for the title, it feels like none of her academic accomplishments have mattered. They weren’t enough to win—or to impress her dad. And the wide, empty summer looms. With nothing planned and no more goals or checklists, she has nothing to work toward.

Eager to fill her days, Grace signs up for a half-marathon race that Jonah’s running, too. Maybe if she can beat Jonah on race day, she’ll feel okay. But as she begins training with Jonah and checking off a new list of summer goals, she starts to question what—and who—really matters to her.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Keep It Together, Keiko Carter

Laurie Morrison Why did I love this book?

This book is an absolute delight! Debbi Michiko Florence is a master of middle-grade romance, and I love the way she explores all the giddy, awkward, confusing excitement of a middle-school crush.

The romance in this book is especially juicy because sweet, people-pleasing Keiko develops feelings for the one boy she’s sure she shouldn’t have a crush on–her best friend’s older brother!

In addition to the sweet romance, there are plenty of relatable and thought-provoking friendship dynamics in this story, too. And as a bonus, there’s a companion novel, Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai, that’s every bit as fun!

By Debbi Michiko Florence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Keep It Together, Keiko Carter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Fans of Judy Blume and Jenny Han are sure to fall head-over-heels
for this sweet story about first crushes, friendship
drama, and finding the courage to stand up for yourself.

Seventh grade is supposed to be a game changer. And Keiko thinks
she's got it covered, especially with Audrey and Jenna
by her side to shop for a new look, pick out a prime lunch spot,
and even hit up that cute new bubble tea place after school. Her
trio is ready to tackle life as they always have... together.

But when Audrey decides they need
boyfriends before Fall Ball,…

Book cover of In the Role of Brie Hutchens...

Laurie Morrison Why did I love this book?

I just love Brie Hutchens, the brave, vulnerable, and absolutely charming main character of this upper middle-grade gem. Nicole Melleby writes characters who feel achingly real, and I felt so much tenderness toward Brie–and so much investment in her story–that I simply could not put this book down.

This is a poignant and propulsive story about an eighth-grade girl weathering a confusing and adorable crush and figuring out her sexuality against the backdrop of a vividly crafted Catholic school setting. Plus, there are such compelling family dynamics! I don’t think this novel is as well known as some of Melleby’s others, but it definitely should be! 

By Nicole Melleby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Role of Brie Hutchens... as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

"A nuanced exploration of how to reconcile faith and identity . . . This funny, tender, and heart-wrenching story will have readers calling for an encore." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review Introducing Brie Hutchens: soap opera superfan, aspiring actor, and so-so student. Brie has big plans for eight grade. But when her mom walks in on her accidentally looking at some possibly inappropriate photos of her favorite actress, Brie sees her dream of attending the performing arts high school falling apart. So she blurts out that she's been chosen to crown the Mary statue during her Catholic school's ceremony in May.…

Book cover of Maybe It's a Sign

Laurie Morrison Why did I love this book?

I love this book because it somehow manages to be a poignant grief story, a delightful friendship story, and a cute (and funny!) tale of first romance all in one book. And all in one book that’s under 250 pages, to boot!

The voice is engaging, the characters are fully realized, and the tone is as cozy and warm as the special desserts the main character learns to bake. It offers an emotional and fun take on an enemies-to-friends-to-crushes tale for the middle-grade crowd.

By E. L. Shen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maybe It's a Sign as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Seventh grader Freya June Sun has always believed in the Chinese superstitions spoon-fed to her since birth - but ever since her dad's death a year ago, she's become obsessed, believing that her father is sending her messages through signs from the beyond. Like how, on her way to an orchestra concert where she's dreading her viola solo, a pair of lucky red birds appear, a sure indication that Dad wants Freya to stick with the instrument and make him proud.

Then Freya is partnered with Gus Choi, a goofy and super annoying classmate, for a home economics project. To…

Book cover of Listen to This

Laurie Morrison Why did I love this book?

This is an immersive and insightful slice-of-life story that drew me right in. I read it on vacation, and it was a perfect tween beach read to get swept up in!

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of two main characters, Lily and Will, who feel equally real and equally endearing. I loved getting inside both their heads and seeing their lives intersect and their feelings for each other grow.

The writing is lovely and smooth, and there’s just a light sprinkling of romance to liven up a relatable and authentic friendship story.

By Jennifer Blecher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Listen to This as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Secrets, rumors, shifting friendships, overbearing parents, and, on top of all that, a first dance—how does anyone survive seventh grade? Told from dual points of view, this novel about two tweens finding their voices and standing up for themselves is for fans of Lisa Yee, Leslie Connor, and Janae Marks.

Lily, Maddie, and Sasha have always been the perfect friendship trio. But this year, everything is changing. Maddie and Sasha made the elite soccer team, and Lily feels that they’re always leaving her behind. And everyone seems to have secrets now: Maddie, and Sasha, and Lily’s sister, and even Lily…

Book cover of Courtesy of Cupid

Laurie Morrison Why did I love this book?

It isn’t easy to find middle-grade rom-coms, but this book checks all the boxes!

I love the concept–an intensely driven eighth grader who scorns the idea of romance and finds out she’s a Cupid–and Nashae Jones delivers with a laugh-out-loud enemies-to-crushes tale. A bit of magic and plenty of hilarious shenanigans make this one a winner.

By Nashae Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Courtesy of Cupid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

In this funny and romantic story sprinkled with a dash of magic, a thirteen-year-old girl uses her newfound ability to make people fall in love to sabotage her rival.

Erin Johnson’s thirteenth birthday unfolds like any other day, from her mom’s quirky and embarrassing choice of outfit to racing her nemesis, Trevor Jin, to the best seat in class—front row, center. But her gifts this year include something very out of the ordinary: magical powers.

Erin discovers her mysterious father is actually the love god Cupid and she’s inherited his knack for romance. It’s not the most useful ability for…

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Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

By PJ Davis,

Book cover of Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

PJ Davis

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Featured in "Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books" - Reedsy Discovery

"Fun & Fast Paced, This is Middle Grade Fantasy at its Best!" — Shaun Stevenson

"If you know any middle-grade readers who enjoy science fiction/fantasy with a mix of action, danger, and humor - recommend this book to them, or just go ahead and give them a copy." — The Fairview Review

“With elements of adventure, exploration, other worlds, and fantastical science, Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time is an exciting middle-grade novel with plenty of suspense… Behind the adventure are important messages about believing in oneself and finding inner strength.” — The Children's Book Review

"The plot of Nemesis and The Vault of Lost Time is a tapestry of surprises characterized by its unforeseen twists and turns. It’s this element of suspense that grips the readers, while the vivid descriptions create immersive visual experiences. Beyond its adventurous core, this mystery novel delves into themes of friendship and the nuanced dynamics of father-son relationships, offering a multi-layered reading experience." — The Literary Titan

Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

By PJ Davis,

What is this book about?

Thirteen-year-old Max is a daydreamer. It gets him into trouble at school, but his restless curiosity really turns problematic when he runs into a mysterious professor at his uncle's bookstore.

The old man informs Max that time is being sucked out of the planet by invisible bandits, stolen from unsuspecting people one breath and one sneeze at a time, and is being stored in a central vault. Once full, the vault will fuel a hungry horde of invaders looking to cross into earth, and cross out all its people.

What's more, the professor claims he knew Max's missing scientist father.…

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