teenage romance novels
Tropes done right are wonderful, and these books — both new and old — nail it. (Illustration by Eunhye Cho, Laguna College of Art and Design)

As cliché as it sounds, some part of everyone longs for that teenage summer romance to finally happen. As much as we despise clichés and think they’re overrated, something about them feels eternal.

Romantic clichés, specifically, have the power to hook attention like almost no other genre. The new boy next door, long lost friendships, family dramas — these common tropes are just the tip of the cliché’ iceberg in many teenage romance novels.

The truth is, the summer season can be quite lonely, especially for those stuck in a small town, part-time jobs or college campuses. With so much time, nothing to do and no one to spend it with, the loneliness can trigger a hope for something spontaneous and story-like to happen.

The harsh reality, though, is that these clichés don’t often happen in real life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t live through them in a fictional world. So, instead of moping around and dreaming of something to cure the boredom, experience these adventures right in the pages of these young adult (YA) romance books.

Find a window seat and grab a mug of tea. Here are six recommendations that will satisfy all your cliché cravings this summer.

1) Celebrity meets ordinary: “The Heartbreaker” by Ali Novak

“We can’t be together. We’re from two different worlds!” This line basically sums up the premise of the book. Ali Novak’s “The Heartbreaker” perfectly illustrates this romantic cliché in the most classic way.

Seventeen-year-old Stella is an aspiring photographer. She likes to take pictures of everything, including her sister Cara, who is battling cancer. For Cara’s upcoming birthday, Stella and her brother decide to get Cara an autographed CD from her favorite band, The Heartbreakers. On their trip to hunt down the autograph, Stella and her brother find themselves befriending the band members, and Stella starts falling for the lead singer, Oliver Perry.

A regular girl falling in love with a celebrity: in reality, this hardly ever happens. Still, as unrealistic as it might seem, some part of us still wishes that it could be true. To satisfy this elusive desire, Novak’s “The Heartbreaker” is the perfect story to indulge in this collision of worlds.

Novak’s immersive storyline will fill your hearts with butterflies and fascination, seeing how Stella and Oliver’s relationship comes together. How do the two maintain a relationship when they are so different?

2) Family drama: “Saint Anything”

Sarah Dessen is without a doubt the queen of teenage romance novels. Dessen has written and published 15 YA novels so far, and “Saint Anything” is her 12th published book.

Sydney has always been in the shadow of her ultra-charismatic older brother, Peyton, who always receives their parents’ utmost attention. However, when a drunk-driving accident lands Peyton a conviction and jail sentence, Sydney suddenly finds herself even more isolated from her family, as her parents become even more absorbed in Peyton and his unfortunate fate.

A feeling of isolation saturates her life, until she meets Mac and his chaotic family, who run a pizza parlor. With Mac’s family, Sydney feels present and not neglected. Suddenly out of the shadows and into the light, how will Mac react to Sydney’s family and their past?

Dessen focuses her storytelling in “Saint Anything” on one universal theme: family. Difficult family situations are something that many of her readers will go through while growing up. By illustrating a problematic family for the protagonist, Dessen doesn’t romanticize the image of a picture-perfect family.

She teaches that, no matter how messy your family is, they are still the most important people in your life. Mac and Sydney’s romantic subplot adds to the overall comparison between the two families and doesn’t stray the focus away from the main storyline.

In “Saint Anything,” Dessen also continues to explore her signature literary themes of self-discovery and young love. Of her past and recent releases, “Saint Anything” is one of Dessen’s most popular teenage romance novels yet, with a 4.05 rating on Goodreads.

3) A fake relationship sparks real romance and a love triangle: “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” trilogy

If you haven’t read the books, you certainly must have seen the movie. Written by New York Times best-selling author Jenny Han, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” gained immense popularity after Netflix made a film adaptation of it in 2018. Critics and fans praised the movie for increasing Asian-American representation in Hollywood.

Lara-Jean is just a regular teenage girl trying to find her place in the world, but she has a big secret. Shy and quirky, she writes love letters to all her past and current crushes. One day, her secret love letters get accidentally mailed out to their never-actually-intended recipients.

Next thing she knows, Peter Kavensky — a recipient to one of her letters and the most popular boy in school — asks her to be his “pretend” girlfriend. During their fake relationship, both Peter and Lara-Jean realize their true feelings for each other.

When Lara-Jean finds out that Josh, who also received a love-letter, might also have a crush her, it complicates her “relationship” and feelings for Peter. Amidst all the chaos, she suddenly finds herself embarking on a wild adventure where she discovers friendship, romance and, ultimately, herself.

When I read the trilogy, I felt like Han illustrated this complex connection between the characters as a metaphor for the teenage high school experience. Similar to conventional expectations of high school, there is more than one cliché in this story. The premise of a fake relationship and a love triangle are classic tropes. Han, however, perfectly blends these two ideas together into a cohesive story, making this book hard to put down.

The sequel to the Netflix movie “To All the Boys I Loved Before” is currently under production and predicted to come out in 2020.

4) The secret life: “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I would Have to Kill You”

As one of her earliest works, “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I would Have to Kill You” is Ally Carter’s first book of the “Gallagher Girls” series. Published in 2006, this book series was ahead of its time.

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Cameron Morgan is your average spy-in-training. To the outside world, Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a school for geniuses. Within its walls, however, young girls are actually training to become spies. That’s right. It’s a spy school, teaching martial arts for P.E. and how to crack CIA codes for computer class.

Cameron might be fluent in 14 languages, she but stumbles to communicate the language of love when she falls for an ordinary boy. How will he react to Cameron’s super secret? That’s the question the readers want to know.

All clichés aside, Carter’s story also delivers an empowering feminist message to her readers. Carter depicts young girls, like Cameron, as smart, strong and powerful. With a little romance added on the side, the “Gallagher Girls” series is appealing to readers of all ages.

When this teenage romance novel was first published, it received mixed reviews. With a 3.8 out 5 rating on Goodreads, some comments called it “subpar” while others said it is “wonderful, laugh-out-loud, action-adventure extravaganza.” I believe that if this series were to be published in our current generation, it would have had the potential to garner more praise than it initially received.

5) The incurable illness: “Five Feet Apart”

You might be wondering, Why isn’t “The Fault in Our Stars” the recommendation for this iconic motif? While John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” might be the classic choice for this example, “Five Feet Apart” — by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Ianconis — although similar, is so much more.

What I appreciate about “Five Feet Apart” is that it carefully depicts a real disease on fictional characters. The story conveys the real and honest challenges living with a terminal illness.

The protagonists, Will and Stella, both have cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease that prevents them from being in close proximity to other patients with the same disorder. The rule for cystic fibrosis patients is that they have to stay at least 6 ft. apart from each other at all times.

As Will and Stella’s relationship grows stronger, they decide to rebel against their restrictions by taking back one foot. It’s just one foot, but it’s a small victory over their disease. Without risking their lives, how will the two navigate their love without touch?

The incurable disease plot is a staple cliché in teenage romance novels these days. The authors of “Five Feet Apart” cleverly intertwined love and death without romanticizing the idea of having a chronic illness. By illustrating the suffering that comes with the disease, it displays a more realistic depiction for its readers, allowing them to further understand the pain of real-life cystic fibrosis patients.

A film adaptation of “Five Feet Apart” was released in March of this year, starring Hayley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse.

6) Meet cute: “What If It’s Us”

Nothing sets the tone for the perfect love story more than the first encounter of the main characters. In Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera’s “What If It’s Us,” Arthur and Ben both thought it was going to be a boring summer in New York.

However, their luck suddenly changes when they meet each other during a typical errand run to the post office. This kind of innocent and fateful meeting is what all hopeless romantics wish happened in real life.

If the typical boy-meets-girl scenario is getting too conventional, “What If It’s Us” is a refreshing break from the traditional romance. By illustrating a main couple from the LGBTQ+ community, “What If It’s Us” normalizes the idea of pure love in all different forms, and it still was able to sweetly use one of the oldest clichés in teenage romance novel history.

You might recognize Albertalli as the author of the book “Simon vs. Homosapien Agenda,” the book that inspired the popular film “Love, Simon.” While the movie paved a major step for LGBTQ+ narratives to be on the big screen, “What If It’s Us” is able to shine bright in its own right.

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