The best YA romances that capture the magic (and angst) of first love

The Books I Picked & Why

How to Love

By Katie Cotugno

Book cover of How to Love

Why this book?

One of my all-time favorite novels, How to Love is a deeply affecting story full of soaring highs and heartbreaking lows. Its protagonist, Reena, is a wonderful example of a strong female character; she’s flawed but inherently good, wildly determined, and fiercely devoted to those she loves—particularly her young daughter and Sawyer, the ultimate bad-boy-with-a-good-heart. How to Love is an unflinching and beautifully-written emotional rollercoaster, and a must-read for fans of contemporary young adult romance.  

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Emergency Contact

By Mary H. K. Choi

Book cover of Emergency Contact

Why this book?

This is one of those all the feels books that’ll make you laugh, cry, worry, and wonder. Emergency Contact’s main characters, Penny and Sam, sparkle with charisma and yet, they’re so layered and complex and real, they read as a pair you might meet at your own university. Their awkward new-relationship moments feel innately relatable, their chemistry smolders, and their story’s conclusion will leave you feeling warm and filled with hope. 

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The Last Thing You Said

By Sara Biren

Book cover of The Last Thing You Said

Why this book?

The Last Thing You Said is one of those romances for which a happy ending feels utterly impossible—until its final pages. Main characters Lucy and Ben are struggling to cope with their sorrow after Trixie, Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister, suddenly passes. Further complicating Lucy and Ben’s grief are their romantic feelings for each other, feelings they were only just beginning to acknowledge the day Trixie died. This story is gorgeous and intense; it broke my heart a hundred times before slowly and satisfyingly piecing it back together. 

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The Sky Is Everywhere

By Jandy Nelson

Book cover of The Sky Is Everywhere

Why this book?

I read The Sky is Everywhere shortly after it was published in 2010, very early in my own pursuit to become a published author. So clearly, I remember absorbing the novel’s final words, closing its cover, and thinking I want people to feel like this after reading the stories I write. In other words: enchanted, affected, and wonderfully content. Lennie’s story of loss and recovery, punctuated by rash decisions, dreamy poetry, and swoony first love, is one that’s stayed with me for more than a decade. 

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Some Other Now

By Sarah Everett

Book cover of Some Other Now

Why this book?

This story’s protagonist, Jessi, remains one of my favorite YA protagonists; she’s the sort of girl I would’ve loved being friends with as a teenager. And the Cohen boys… it’s no wonder Jessi is so enamored with them both! A poignant narrative centering around unimaginable tragedy, Some Other Now combines two of my favorite romance tropes: the boy next door and the love triangle. It’s a story about best friends, broken families, and love in all its fiercest forms, written with thoughtfulness and lyricism.

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