Whether your Valentine’s Day entails a romantic candle-lit dinner date or a Netflix rom-com marathon by yourself on the couch (you and I both), everyone needs a little love on the most passionate day of the year. Instead of drooling over Ryan Gosling in the Notebook on repeat, why not curl up with these unattainable relationship standards instead? These novels tell the best, most heartachingly beautiful stories that the romance genre has to offer. Grab your tissues, a mug of cocoa, and a pair of sweats; it’s time to rediscover romance.
1. Juliet: A Novel by Anne Fortier
Love classic romance stories? This story may seem familiar, but that’s because it is based on the story that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in Siena instead of Shakespeare’s Verona, Julie Jacobs is given the key to a secret safety deposit box and discovers that she is the descendent of Giulietta, the real-life Juliet. As the novel progresses the past and the present are told in parallel, with Julie encountering infamous descendents of various characters in the books, Julie comes to realize that “a plague on both your houses” might just be a real threat and that the person who can save her is her Romeo, if only she can find him.
Fortier’s reinvention of this classic story make the characters accessible to readers who couldn’t connect to the cut and dry study of Shakespeare’s master play. One of history’s greatest love stories gets a new breath of life, full of tears, secrets, love, intrigue, and an exciting new addition of a death defy horse race called the Palio, and makes Juliet: A Novel a must read.
2.The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Before I tell you anything about the plot, let me just say that this novel is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a long while. Fantastical, otherworldly, and ethereal, the world created in The Night Circus leaps off the page with an aching vibrancy that leaves you wishing it were real long after you’ve finished reading.
In the Circus of Dreams, two young prodigies are pitted against each other in a winner-takes all battle. While the romantic portion of the plot is predictable, the mounting tension of their battle for survival is more than enough to keep the plot exciting and enigmatic. A classic love-conquers-all tale with a fantastic, lyrical twist, The Night Circus demands to be read on any occasion, not just Valentine’s day.
3. Anything by John Green
Whether you enjoy bawling your eyes out or laughing at quirky storylines and even more eccentric characters, John Green has it all. With a unique perspective and a mastery of language, Green creates stories that stay with you long after you are finished reading. Hazel and Gus’ star-crossed romance in A Fault in Our Stars, although made well known through the movie, is as heart-wrenching as it is poignant, and differs from the movie in that it reads like a love story between two young people who happen to have cancer rather than the two dying kids depicted by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Looking for Alaska deals with the vibrancy of an incredible life, bright and exciting and worthy of love and adoration, and the darkness left behind when that light is gone. I give you fair warning; you will cry.
If you’d rather not cry, Green’s other two books, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns, are introspective and thoughtful while still being fun. Whether you’d rather go on a road trip to nowhere with Colin, a failed child prodigy trying to find a way to mathematically graph love and who has a predilection for dating women named Katherine (nineteen in total), or go along with Quentin, the graduating geek who is hopelessly in love with an unavailable girl, to solve the great mystery that is Margo Roth Spiegelman after she goes missing, Green has a way of making the young adult genre, usually littered with cliches and tropes, into something new and exciting.
John Green is today’s quintessential young adult romance novelist, and I hope he will continue to be so for a long while.
4. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
In the future United States, love is considered to be a disease. A surgical cure has been discovered and all people over the age of eighteen must undertake it. Parents don’t love their children; they tolerate them. Marriages aren’t based on love; they are about social standing. Pre-operation boys and girls are separated to prevent any threat of affection.
Lena is like everyone else. She fears “the deliria” and looks forward to the day that she will get her surgery and be free from the threat of disease. But then she meets a boy, and everything changes.
The first book in an excellent series, Delirium sets up a classic battle for love under the thumb of an oppressive government.
5. We Were Liars by E. Lockheart
Incredible, realistic tale of romance? Yes. Happily ever after? Not so much.
This novel was one of the most surprising of 2014. After recovering from a mysterious injury, Cadence returns to her family’s island where she has spent all her summers since she was a child. As she tries to figure out the circumstances around her injury, surrounded by a family who refuses to tell her anything, she is also trying to rebuild her life-long relationships that have begun to fall apart.
Flashing between the present and the past, We Were Liars tells the story of the perfect, natural love of two people who have grown up together. This is a story that doesn’t wax poetic on the hard parts of growing up, but still manages to be hopeful. And the twist ending is the most shocking that I have encountered in a long while.