Even though I have not read a lot of books that fall squarely in the romance genre, I love it when a little romance is part of the larger story. I tend to get emotionally involved with the lives of fictional couples, and am heartbroken if my ship sinks. I am sure crying one’s eyes out over the fate of imaginary people, while gorging on copious amounts of chocolate, is perfectly acceptable bookworm behavior. My fellow Rioters and I take stock of the literary couples that we fell head over heels in love with, and what had us rooting for them.
Celie and Shug
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
These two meet under the most unlikely of circumstances, but with compassion and understanding help each other overcome a world of pain and trauma. Both their characters are beautifully written, and their story is exquisitely moving. It has been years since I first read the book, but the mental image of Shug and Celie, in a field of purple, wearing the elaborate trousers that Celie stitched for them, still warms the cockles of my heart.
Eleanor and Raymond
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This book is an overwhelming combination of humor and heartbreak, and Eleanor and Raymond’s friendship is testimony to the life altering potential of ordinary kindness. It is also a lesson on how to respect someone’s boundaries, yet manage to be there for them. Every scene in the novel with the two of them together invoked hopeful and fuzzy feelings.
Eliza Sommers and Tao Chi’en
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Chilean Eliza and Chinese Tao Chi’en first meet when Eliza smuggles herself aboard a ship bound for California at the height of the gold rush to look for her lover, and Tao Chi’en nurses her back to health after a near fatal miscarriage. The two have a lot of adventures, together as well as individually, in the wild west, and eventually find their way back to each other. Aside from the fast paced story and compelling setting, what sets this couple aside is the non conformity to traditional gender norms, despite their characters being well-rounded and believable as products of patriarchal mid-19th century cultures.
Westley and Buttercup
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Is there any literary couple more iconic than Buttercup and Westley, whose relationship survives time, apparent death, piracy, torture, and a fire swamp full of giant rodents? Theirs is a true fairytale romance, full of adventure and longing. That’s hard to beat if you ask me. After all, in the words of Westley, “This is true love — you think this happens every day?”
Evelyn and Celia
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Hollywood starlets in the 1950s fall in storied, complicated, decades-long love in this beautiful novel told in flashbacks as aging movie star Evelyn Hugo recounts the loves of her life to a young journalist. It’s impossible not to fall a little bit in love alongside them.
Katniss and Peeta
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In this iconic series, Katniss and Peeta are the couple to follow throughout the dystopian Hunger Games series. Whether they had to compete together, come against each other at times, or find their way back to each other, we found ourselves rooting for the couple, even after some questionable and tough situations. Nevertheless, Katniss Everdeen was certainly a strong character to follow as she navigated some tough moments in the competitions. And, even with her romantic confusion with her guy friend, Gale, we all felt like a cozy blanket was pulled over us in loving protection when she found her happy ending with Peeta after all, after everything she survived in the classic teen series.
Cath and Levi
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I’m a grown man who has read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl twice and owns two different editions. As an introvert who grew up quite often awkward, shy, and insecure (I, too, was in my first semester of college when I read it for the first time and I, too, could relate to living off power bars because the idea of navigating the cafeteria was too stressful), Cath’s journey in the book will always mean a lot to me — as well as her relationship with Levi, a boy she meets at school. A lot of other Fangirl fans I’ve met love the couple simply because she reads to him, which is definitely adorable, but I just love how he takes the time to see her: all of her. Introverts — and surely queer people — grow up feeling uncomfortable taking up too much space in life, either because it makes us ridiculously anxious or because we’ve spent so much of our young lives being told by bullies that we don’t deserve to take up space. Or both! So just the concept of Levi wanting to take the time to get to know Cath and all of her existential anxieties always makes my heart melt. He also reminds me somewhat of Jess Mariano from Gilmore Girls, who lives eternally rent free in my mind. If you need me, I’ll be in social isolation praying for a real-life man like Levi or Jess to soon enter my own life.
Genly and Estraven
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
I was stunned when the slow burn of this couple rooted itself in me and became a pairing I still think about, despite reading the book several years ago now. How these two eventually come to depend on each other and overcome their differences just makes me soft, as did Genly’s burgeoning feelings for his travel companion as they navigate not only the wintery wilderness of the alien planet but the complexities of sexuality and gender. You want “character A breaks character B out of prison” scenes, or “oops we’re huddled together to escape the cold” scenes? Look no further! And the angst! Oh, the angst…
Linus Baker and Arthur Parnassus
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The House in the Cerulean Sea is by no means a romance novel, but it has managed to introduce me to one of the loveliest couples I’ve read recently. The story centers on Linus Baker, a casework for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, who visits an orphanage with six rare magical children and ends up finding a lot more than he bargained for. Through his investigation, he develops a friendship with the master of the orphanage, Albert Parnassus. As Linus learns about the truth of the department he works for and Albert’s past, he becomes conflicted and questions the rules and regulations he’s relied on up to that point. With their developing relationship and Linus’s growing affection for each of the children, there is a lot of love in this book. Towards the end, I had a hard time putting it down. It had adventure, wonder, hope, and two characters that see each other for who they truly are. How could I not fall in love?
Severin and Laila
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
I enjoy reading about Severin and Laila’s relationship since their bond is both dynamic and complicated. Laila is the maternal figure among the group of five, and also has a deep secret that only Severin knows. They share a deep passion for one another, yet are very unsure to reveal it. Many events (both joyful and traumatic) happen to this couple, leaving me hoping for the ultimate resolution. Their love story extends into future installments of this series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Alex and Henry
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I think that I read this book in a single day, and I reread it about a year later and it was just as engrossing and delightful as before. I’m not usually a reader of romance-focused books, but a friend got this for me and it was the LGBTQ+ romcom novel of my dreams. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the son of President Ellen Claremont, the first female president of the United States. He has an intense chip on his shoulder toward England’s Prince Henry, but that begins to shift when the two men are forced to fake-bond in order to smooth over some bad publicity. Turns out that Prince Henry isn’t just a stick-up-the-butt snob, but actually just massively awkward with longing. The trope of enemies-to-lovers is done perfectly here, as their bickering turns to banter and resentment turns to respect. Want to spend some time with a fluffy, hopeful, dream of a book? Here it is!