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

Who am I?

I’ve been reading YA since I was a young adult myself, and I’ve always favored stories with a strong romantic angle. As a kid, I loved The Baby-Sitters Club’s starry-eyed Stacey and Sweet Valley High’s boy-crazy Jessica; as an adult, I flock to the romance section of bookstores and libraries. When the urge to try my hand at writing struck, I drafted young adult romances without even considering other categories or genres. I will always choose a meet-cute, witty banter, and sizzling chemistry over fast-paced action, clever twists, and high-concepts plots. When it comes to reading and writing, I love love! 

I wrote...

Kissing Max Holden

By Katy Upperman,

Book cover of Kissing Max Holden

What is my book about?

After his father’s life-altering stroke, Max isn't himself; his long-time friend Jillian doesn’t know how to help. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows she should send him away, but when he leans in for a kiss, she can’t resist. Caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it'll never happen again. 

But with her parents fighting constantly and her dream of culinary school up in the air, Jill starts spending a lot of time with bad-boy Max. And though he has a girlfriend and her dad disapproves, not kissing Max is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart and let their friendship blossom into more, or will she stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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.  

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in angst, diseases, and love?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about angst, diseases, and love.

Angst Explore 12 books about angst
Diseases Explore 14 books about diseases
Love Explore 161 books about love

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like They Both Die at the End, Clap When You Land, and Along for the Ride if you like this list.