YA Romance in 2013

This week, many YA authors were discussing online the recent news that due to insufficient entries, the YA Romance category for the 2014 RITA® has been cancelled. Marni Bates wrote about her reaction, as did Diana Peterfreund. My reaction: Aw, bummer. I discover many terrific authors in the YA Romance category when we do the RITA® Reader Challenge each year, and end up with books I recommend for years afterward. This year I thought there were some outstanding YA romances that completely rocked my world, and I'm sorry that there were insufficient entries to make it part of the RITA® process. 

Since I'm going to miss the annual discovery of awesomeness in YA romance this year, I put the call out on Twitter for reader favorites in YA romance this year, and promised to compile them all. Here's a selection of those recommended, and please, add your 2013 favorites in the comments if you'd like! Feel free to share what you loved and why you loved it, and help others discover the best of 2013 YA Romance. 


Book Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – ( A | BN | K S | ARe

I discovered this book when it, along with a handful of others, was on sale for the mysterious price of $1.40 at Amazon. So many people told me this book was amazing, and they were right. I wrote in my review:

This book made all the emotional tingles and the sniffly reading and the big sighs happen for me as a reader. I so identified with Cath, with her loneliness and her fear and her determination and her becoming absorbed in other worlds and her fear that she wasn't quite normal because she loved that world so much.

Thank you to all the people who told me I had to read this book. You were so, so right. Thank you. 

Many other people echoed this favorite of mine, including authors Bria Quinlan and Theresa Romain.



Book Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell — ( A | BN | K S | ARe)

For every person who said Fangirl was amazing, there was another who recommended Eleanor and Park equally.

NPR's Linda Holmes wrote, “Ultimately, Eleanor & Park is an enormously optimistic book about love and connection, and about the capacity of people to be powerfully consoling and healing to each other, even when they're 16. And for that healing to be meaningful, there has to be some honesty about the injury.

Also, do not miss the NPR Best Books of 2013 Concierge because it is SO COOL AND FUN AND NEAT. 




Book Dare You To

Dare You To by Katie McGarry — ( A | BN | K S | ARe)

Dare You To is in the same series of books by Katie McGarry that includes Pushing The Limits (which was a Sizzling Book Club Pick and which I mistakenly remembered as being published in 2013 – it was a 2012 book, sorry). Recommended by librarian Elizabeth Burns, who wrote at School Library Journal

I adored Dare You To. Just loved it.

Why? Because Beth. Her voice is terrific: she’s tough on the outside, yes, because life has made her tough. She’s the child of teenage parents who didn’t get their act together when they had a kid. Drug and alcohol abuse and neglect means that often Beth is the caretaker in the family. Because she has been let down, over and over, she has defenses up. Trusting anyone, getting close to anyone, is a risk she doesn’t take. Also? Beth is funny and wry and smart in her observations. So many times reading this, I started laughing out loud, because of what Beth said.

@scharle4 on Twitter said, “Beth learns that trusting someone is worth the risk.” 


Book Crash Into You

Crash Into You by Katie McGarry — ( A | BN | K S | ARe )

Crash Into You follows Dare You To. Plot summary? Of course: The girl with straight As, designer clothes and the perfect life—that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private-school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy parents and overbearing brothers…and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker—a guy she has no business even talking to. But when the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind.

Author @ChanelCleeton on Twitter recommended this one, saying this and Stir Me Up (below) were amazing. And author Farrah Rochon said when I asked for best-of recs that she was reading this book right that minute, and loving it. 




Book Stir Me Up

Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins –( A | BN | K S | ARe )

Please note! This book is $1.99 right now! 


Cami Broussard has her future all figured out. She'll finish her senior year of high school, then go to work full-time as an apprentice chef in her father's French restaurant, alongside her boyfriend, Luke. But then twenty-year-old ex-Marine Julian Wyatt comes to live with Cami's family while recovering from serious injuries. And suddenly Cami finds herself questioning everything she thought she wanted.

Chanel Cleeton recommended this book, as did Jane at Dear Author, who threatened me with the silent treatment during a podcast if I didn't read it. 




This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith — ( A | BN | K S | ARe  )Book This is What Happy Looks Like

This YA romance starts when a teenage movie star sends an email to the wrong person and ends up corresponding with “the girl of his dreams.” Elizabeth Burns wrote at SLJ

Yes, this is a romance, Ellie’s and Graham’s romance. But it’s also the story of friendship and trust. Graham has to learn to be a friend to Ellie, and Ellie has to learn to trust Graham.





Book The Bitter Kingdom

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson — ( A | BN | K S | ARe)

The Bitter Kingdom is the third book in The Girl of Fire and Thorns series: “Elisa, the seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen, will travel into an unknown enemy's realm to win back her true love, save her kingdom, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.”

Elizabeth Burns wrote in SLJ

The thing to remember, of course, that this trilogy is about Elisa. It is about her journey, from protected child to strong queen. And what a journey! It is both physical — learning to fight, chasing down her enemies, running from others — and emotional. Learning to make the hard choices, including what is best for her country. And learning to find joy and happiness where she can get it.




Book Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore –( A | BN | K S | ARe )

Summary: Speaking to the dead is nothing for Daisy Goodnight. The living, on the other hand, can occasionally be a problem. Especially when they knock you out, kidnap you, and force you to be their magical police dog.

Librarian Elizabeth Burns tweeted a bunch of links to me after I asked for YA Romance recommendations for the best of 2013. This is one of the many. She wrote at SLJ:

Spirit and Dust does a tiny bait and switch. One of Daisy’s handlers is a cute, young FBI agent so of course I thought, ”aha, the love interest.” Then Daisy got kidnapped by Maguire, and one of Maguire’s henchman, Carson, gets assigned to Daisy, to make sure she does what Maguire wants. Carson is young, cute, funny, and smart. But wait,  you say — he’s the bad guy, right? Let me just say, that yes, Carson becomes what I think of as a “question mark” — is he a good guy or a bad guy? Yes, he works for Maguire, but all his actions seem to indicate he’s a good guy. But is Daisy too trusting?




Book Collide

Collide by JR Lenk –( A | BN | K S | ARe )

Shae Connor said that Collide hit her “so hard that I reviewed it on GR, which I almost never do.” She also said, “The characters were such REAL teenagers that I wanted to smack them!”

Summary: Being bisexual is cool now—unless you’re a boy. Or so it seems to invisible fifteen-year-old Hazard James.

But when he falls in with bad apple Jesse Wesley, Hazard is suddenly shoved into the spotlight. Jesse and his friends introduce him to the underworld of teenage life: house parties, hangovers, the advantages of empty homes, and reputation by association. So what if his old friends don’t get it? So what if some people love to hate him? Screw gossip and high school’s secret rules. There’s just something about walking into a room and having all eyes on him when just last year nobody noticed him at all.

Book How to Love


How to Love by Katie Cotugno –( A | BN | K S )

How to Love was recommended by @MissDahlELama, and also by @LKeochgerien. 

Before: Reena Montero has loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she can remember. But he's never noticed that Reena even exists . . . until one day, impossibly, he does. Reena and Sawyer fall in messy, complicated love. But then Sawyer disappears without a word, leaving a devastated—and pregnant—Reena behind.

After: Almost three years have passed, and there's a new love in Reena's life: her daughter. Reena's gotten used to life without Sawyer, but just as suddenly as he disappeared, he turns up again. Reena wants nothing to do with him, though she'd be lying if she said his being back wasn't stirring something in her.

After everything that's happened, can Reena really let herself love Sawyer LeGrande again?



Book Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta –( A | BN | K S )

I think half of Australia's YA reading community will nod at once when they see Melina Marchetta's name. An Australian author of considerable talent, Marchetta writes fantasy and contemporary stories that often make readers uglycry. This one is part of the series that started with Finnikin of the Rock, which is currently on sale for $1.99.

Elizabeth Burns reviewed this for SLJ and said: 

I want to quickly mention there is a ton of action going on here, fights and battles and scheming, and also a lot of politics, because countries are made not just from battles won or lost but also from the people who have to govern after the violence and blood. There is also humor! Because these are real people, and real people can be funny, at times I laughed over things done or said. It is not all angst and feelings. I feel I need to mention these other things before repeating why I personally loved this book: the hurt, the anger, the damaged people who refuse to be shaped by their histories.




Book Racing Savannah

Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally  –( A | BN | K S )

On Twitter, @scharle4 recommended this book because “Racing Savannah shows us that love defies socioeconomic status despite what parents and others believe.”

Summary: He lives in the estate house, and she spends most of her time in the stables helping her father train horses. In fact, Savannah has always been much more comfortable around horses than boys. Especially boys like Jack Goodwin—cocky, popular and completely out of her league. She knows the rules: no mixing between the staff and the Goodwin family. But Jack has no such boundaries.





Book Things I Can't Forget

Things I Can't Forget - Miranda Kenneally –( A | BN | K S )

@scharle4 also recommended this one, saying, that “Kate's beliefs collide with her feelings for Matt.” This book follows a heroine who is strictly religious and her crises of faith as she begins to change and grow. 


Kate has always been the good girl. Too good, according to some people at school—although they have no idea the guilty secret she carries. But this summer, everything is different…

This summer she's a counselor at Cumberland Creek summer camp, and she wants to put the past behind her. This summer Matt is back as a counselor too. He's the first guy she ever kissed, and he's gone from geeky songwriter who loved The Hardy Boys to a buff lifeguard who loves to flirt…with her.




Book Wreckless

Wreckless by Bria Quinlan — ( A | BN | K S ) – On Sale right now for $3.99!

On Twitter, @RachelSGrant logged two votes for this book: “1 from me, 1 from my 13 yo daughter.” This book sounds very powerful. 


Bridget Larson's never met a rule she didn't like. Drawing inside the lines isn't just a way of life – it's the only way she can make it through the day. And through it all her BFF Leah has stood inside the lines with her through the unspeakable. Then Bridget catches her boyfriend with Leah and the last thing on her mind is staying safe.




Book Openly Straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg –( A | BN | K S )

Recommended on Twitter by Brigid Kemmerer, this book is about an openly gay young man who transfers to a boarding school and decides he doesn't want to be the gay poster child anymore. 


Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He's won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he's gay. He's been out since 8th grade, and he isn't teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that's important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy.

Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    kkw says:

    I loathe YA, but I’m so sorry to hear it’s being dropped from the RITAs. Admittedly, I often find the RITA nominations mystifing, but they are still very useful to me. Shame. At least I have this list from which to draw recommendations now.

  2. 2
    LML says:

    Wow, kkw.  As I read these recommendations I was simultaneously thinking that I don’t understand adult enjoyment of YA fiction.  I’ve come across one or two great websites that I don’t return to because YA is their raison d’etre.  Why do you dislike YA?  I clearly recall my pleasure in YA lit when I was YA—for me, maybe its a matter of been there, done that.  And yet … these people whose opinions I read and respect and from which opinions I derive great pleasure and entertainment believe these are good stories well told.  So I bought Fangirl and E&P but keep shuffling them around instead of reading them.

  3. 3
    Heather says:

    I would like to blame this on the inexplicable influx of the “new adult” genre.  It’s everywhere.  I don’t get the popularity.  But it seems like most examples of “new adult” I have read are an excuse to avoid real character development and right first person accounts of shallow people who are living lives of incredible privilege but are filled with angst over some small blip in their otherwise sheltered lives that becomes the focus of overblown anguish for the entire work.  Plus, since it isn’t YA, sexy times can be shoehorned in awkwardly.  I’m sure there are good New Adult books out there, but there seems to be a deluge of overwrought drivel that is eclipsing both YA and traditional books.  I’m tired of having to wade through it to find a decent book.  Thank goodness for Smart Bitches who does some of that wading for me!

  4. 4
    Darlynne says:

    FANGIRL should have qualified as a one-entry category, imo. I mean, hold the contest just for that book to acknowledge its wonder and beauty. It was so lovely.

  5. 5

    It does seem like the fairly narrow RWA definition excludes a lot of YA books, since romantic triangles are such a big thing in YA and the definition specifies “two adolescents.” Even in YA books that focus on just one couple, some of the perceived romance “rules” get broken. Series are popular in YA, so the relationship may not be resolved in one book. Or there’s the “happy for now” ending because you don’t really need two teenagers to be making a lifetime commitment. You can’t judge a category you’ve entered in, which means that YA authors who know their own genre may not be judging. I’ve got a YA coming out in a year or so and even though I find it romantic and I have a feeling most of my reader mail will be of the swooning over the romance variety, it wouldn’t fit the RWA definition of romance and I won’t be entering the Rita unless they change the guidelines between now and then.

  6. 6
    kkw says:

    @LML I never liked YA. I tend to find it condescending and precious, but there’s plenty of good YA out there. I suspect coming of age stories don’t speak to me because I always found childhood an artificial concept, or maybe it’s cause I’ve never gotten into the idealization or idolization of youth, but whatever – it’s not my thing. I wish library search engines would let me filter out anything considered YA, but it’s probably for the best I’m exposed to things I don’t enjoy so I don’t calcify completely.
    Plus I do some tutoring, so it’s useful to know what kids are reading, and/or what they might like to read. I’m grateful to the people who enjoy reading this stuff so I’m only wading through a small selection of what’s hopefully the best of it.

  7. 7
    Vicki says:

    I like YA for a number of reasons. First, I work with children and teens. I find development and developmental issues endlessly fascinating and good YA addresses developmental issues. Second, I find that YA is more often involved with real issues and social concerns and is much clearer about dealing with those issues than much of adult fiction. Third, I had a very rough childhood and adolescence and YA is a way of revisiting those issues safely. I had to return home at 20 after being gone for 5 years because my health broke down and I was, at that time, able to develop a better relationship with my mother. I also, in my 30s, addressed with my mom the fact that I found my childhood abusive and we have healed those wounds on both sides. However, they are not completely gone and YA is often therapeutic for me. As well as often great fun.

  8. 8
    LaineyT says:

    @SBSarah…FYI the links for the Melina Marchetta book (at least for the Kobo and Sony links) are set to take you to the Katie Cotugno book.

  9. 9
    Kimber An says:

    So it’s not just me.  There is less YA, or less really great YA.  Thanks for the recommendations!

  10. 10
    LML says:

    Thanks for your perspectives on YA.  I’ll have them in the back of mind when I stop shuffling and start reading the two I’ve purchased.

  11. 11
    Heather S says:

    UGH. First of all, the RITAs don’t impress me: “Temptation and Twilight” was nominated, and subhanALLAH, I HATE THAT BOOK! (Actually, it was the hero I hated. Talk about an alphole.)

    I’m also not a fan of YA in general. There IS life after 19! And – newsflash – it’s SO MUCH BETTER than being a teenager!

    Don’t even get me started on the “New Adult” category… *hates it with all of her being*

  12. 12
    SB Sarah says:

    @LaineyT – OOOPS. Thanks for the heads up. My bad – coding that many books means I’m more likely to make mistakes. Sorry about that.

  13. 13
    LovellOftheWolves says:

    I’ve been confused in recent years about YA. I remember in bookstores (like Borders when it was still around, and Barnes and Nobles (not too sure about Chapters…)) the YA section was mostly Mid-Grade stories, and that the Teens had their own section. But it seems that in the internet book world YA means teens and Mid-Grade is just Mid-Grade w/o ceremony.

    All that aside, I have always held a soft spot in my heart for Mid-Grade novels. Young Adult on the other hand tends to err too ANGSTY for me. But like other posters above, I personally believe my distaste is due to my love of satire and comedy and absolute aversion to melodrama. I never read YA as a teen (read mostly mid-grade or Terry Pratchett/ Diana Wynne Jones/ Dresden Files) and I have a real hard time empathizing/ identifying with YA heroines. I guess my life was too boring as a teen. Exceptions to the rule: Georgia Nickolson’s diaries (though those were straight up comedies) and Fangirl is just mindblowingly good.

  14. 14
    marjorie says:

    People making proudly sweeping generalizations about YA is a lot like people making proudly sweeping generalizations about romance. You really WANNA boast about your ignorance and biases? There’s all kinds of YA, of varying levels of literary quality. Just as “romance” is a very big tent…so is YA.

    Eleanor and Park was my favorite book of 2013. Bar none. And I read a LOT, in a multitude of genres…including literary fiction and non-fiction.

  15. 15
    Vasha says:

    I most definitely am not going to dismiss YA in total, I know it’s as giod as any other genre. However, I personally don’t much enjoy reading about immature characters and as someone else said it just maked me glad I’m not a teenager any more. That said, I still love Patricia McKillip, one of the few YA authors I read when I actually was a teen.

  16. 16

    I absolutely LOVED Sabrina Elkins’ STIR ME UP. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend it. It’s got angst but it’s also got great humor and it’s incredibly romantic—and you’ll end up wanting to eat lots of soup. It’s one of those books where I was only a few pages into the first chapter and thought, I will read whatever Elkins writes.

  17. 17
    Layla says:

    These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. SERIOUSLY GO READ IT. I read a lot of YA and this was by far one of my favorites for the year – there’s good worldbuilding, a good mixture of speculative fiction and romance, and it made me cry. I’ve read reviews that are like “this is Titanic. But in space” and that is true, but this is better than Titanic in my book.

    Also Diana Peterfreund’s sequel to For Darkness Shows the Stars, Across a Star Swept Sea came out this fall and it’s even better than the first book, which is sometimes hard for second books, and might have been made even harder by almost-totally-new world building (it’s in the same universe, but one that’s been narrativized differently in this book’s setting and as a result has grown differently) but she makes it work and it’s incredibly interesting. & I’ve not read The Scarlet Pimpernel so I bet that makes it an even more interesting read. Ah, so good. And I like how she writes women.

  18. 18

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