I loved middle school romance books when I was a tween. I craved reading about crushes, first kisses, school dance drama, and love. But for a long time, conventions have stated that middle grade books should focus on friendship and family, while YA books focus more on romantic love. And choices for middle school readers who love romance are few and far between. But there are some great ones out there. And this seems to be changing with more tween romance books being published in recent years.
I think it’s wonderful that so many stories about friendship and families exist. Many of my favorite middle grade books have no romance in them at all. And I definitely understand complaints that there need to be more YA and teen books without any romance in them. Not all tweens or teenagers feel interested in romance, in their books or in their personal lives. And it’s important that there are stories that exist for them.
However, for many people middle school is when you first start feeling romantic crushes. It can be an important time for beginning to understand your sexuality and sexual orientation. And it’s important for middle school kids to be able to reflect on these experiences and changes through the safe space of literature. Also, books about smooching and crushes can be so fun to read about! With that in mind, here are ten middle school romance books for you to read.
Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt
This middle school romance is told completely through poetry. At first, Tam thinks Kate is just a girly, fake cheerleader. And Kate thinks Tam is a jock who only cares about volleyball. But when the girls get to know each other, a friendship and then an attractions grows between them. Each girl experiences moments of deep joy and harsh doubt and shame as each must decide how to handle their growing feelings. Besides their perspective, there is also a Greek chorus point of view named Alex, Alyx, and Alexx who speculate on Tam and Kate’s relationship from their hallway observations of the pair.
Keep It Together, Keiko Carter by Debbi Michiko Florence
When the book begins, Kieko is excited to take on 7th grade with her best friends Jenna and Audrey at her side. But when Audrey announces all three of them must find boyfriends before the Fall dance things start to fall apart. Jenna is fed up with Audrey’s bossiness and suddenly Kieko is in the middle of her best friends fighting. Meanwhile, Kieko’s crush is not someone Audrey approves of. But should she go for it anyway? This book is a lot about friendship, but there are also a lot of crushes, flirting, and middle school romance central to the plot. And if you want more middle school romance books, you can read the sequel Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai about Keiko’s best friend Jenna.
Pizza My Heart by Rhiannon Richardson
This middle grade romcom mixes together two of my favorite things together: crushes and pizza. It is a winning recipe! When Maya’s family moves from New York City to a small town in Pennsylvania, she’s given the new job of delivering pizza from her parent’s restaurant on her bike. Her first delivery is a disaster when she is late and then trips. To make matters worse it is in front of Justin, a cute and obnoxious boy from her grade. Maya is convinced they are enemies. But later, he tries to makes things right and helps keep one of Maya’s secrets from her parents so she can participate in art club. And in return, Maya gives Justin pizza-making lessons. I loved that aside from their sweet romance, both Maya and Justin have strong passions that move the story forward.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
Thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora has three goals: saving his family restaurant La Cocina de la Isla, saving his Miami neighborhood from gentrifying real estate developers, and convincing Carmen, the new girl in his apartment complex, to go out with him. She likes poetry, so he begins to explore it himself. And soon he realizes writing is the answer to solving all three of his problems. Inspired by a box of letters he finds from his deceased grandfather and the poetry of José Martí, Arturo embarks on the most important summer of his life.
Shug by Jenny Han
Before she wrote To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han wrote a middle school romance book dealing with friendship, crushes, and family drama. Annemarie is called Shug by her family, and this book is definitely sweet. She’s decided 12 is the perfect age to have her first kiss. But her plans run amok when Mark, the dreamy boy next door and top candidate for her smooching goals, turns out to have a crush on Annemarie’s beautiful older sister. The only boy left is Jack, who’s known as a bad boy who constantly gets in trouble. But maybe Jack isn’t what he seems and is actually better for Annemarie than Mark? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella Enchanted is a middle grade classic and one of my favorite books of all time. It is a comedic and richly developed Cinderella retelling about a girl who has an obedience curse put on her to do literally everything she is ordered to do. Add in a selfish stepmother and two greedy stepsisters and this situation with a complete disaster. But her friendship with Prince Char and growing feelings for him make life almost bearable. They might even give her the motivation to figure out how to break the curse so she can find her own happily ever after. I completely swooned over the relationship between Ella and Char when I first read this book in the 4th grade. And I still do! This beloved classic certainly holds up.
The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz
Middle school fans of Broadway musicals and romance will completely swoon over this novel. It features 14-year-old Nat right after her family moves across the country. To meet new kids and follow her dream of becoming a professional actress someday, she wants to audition for a youth production of Wicked. Her parents don’t think someone in a wheelchair can be on stage. But when she tries out and makes the cast, they reluctantly let her stay in the play. Throughout rehearsals, Nat makes new friends, faces many challenges, and develops a huge crush on Malik, the male lead in the show.
Love Double Dutch! by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly
MaKayla is a double dutch fanatic who’s looking forward to competing in the National Jump Off with her Brooklyn team. But her plans are dashed when her parents send her to North Carolina to live with her aunt while they decide if they are going to get divorced. MaKayla expects to hate everything about the South, especially her snobbish, girly cousin Sally. But Sally helps her build a new double dutch team, and a handsome and confident boy, Charlie, who doesn’t mind that MaKayla is a tomboy, helps her warm up to living in North Carolina as well. Romance isn’t the sole focus of this middle grade novel. But there is a sweet romance subplot and a very dreamy middle school dance scene!
Both Can Be True by Jules Machias
Daniel and Ash are brought together by a shared mission: to save a dog that’s about to be euthanized at a local shelter. This secret mission brings them together. And each of them find the acceptance and friendship they’ve been longing for at school. Daniel is an emotional boy who’s constantly being told he’s too sensitive. Ash, who cycles through genders, struggles with daily decisions like how to present themself and which bathroom to use at school. Their friendship and joint commitment to keeping Chewbarka alive leads to crushes and mutual attraction. This tween romance is ultimately hopeful, but the story also includes heavy subject like transphobia, misgendering, and bullying.
Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin
Fans of middle school romance books will love this story. But be warned there isn’t necessarily a happy ending. Every year, best friends Lukas and Joy create a scavenger hunt for the other on their birthdays. But last year, on Joy’s 12th birthday, Lukas tragically died. And she couldn’t face following the scavenger he’d made. This year on her 13th birthday, she decides to open the first clue and follow the hunt the best she can. The story is told in alternating perspectives. Through Joy in the present we see her finding each clue and reflecting on the loss of her best friend. Through Lukas in the past we see him setting up each clue and worrying about his present and telling Joy he has romantic feelings for her. This book is romantic, but not exactly a romance. Instead, it’s a beautiful look at a relationship that might have been.
I hope you enjoy these middle school romance books! For more book ideas check out 15 middle grade books with happy endings, 20 YA love stories, or this article on why adults should read more middle grade.