Pen pal romance novels combine so many amazing tropes and writing styles. In fact, many of the first novels ever written were epistolary. And writing letters plays a part in most of the important classic romance books I can think of. I still swoon just thinking about Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot at the end of Persuasion. There is something so romantic about falling in love through writing first because it removes physical appearance from the equation. Additionally, people can often be more honest and vulnerable through written messages than they would ever be standing in front of another person.
There have been so many amazing contemporary pen pal romance novels lately. I decided to focus on love stories set in the present, even though that meant excluding many amazing historical pen pal romance novels. Biggest apologies to Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas (one of my favorite romantic reads). These 10 books include fan letters written to celebrities, enemies in real life who are confidants online, and friendships that turn into love. I hope you love reading them just as much as these characters love writing to each other. Maybe they will even inspire you to email or write a letter to someone. Happy reading!
Yours Truly by Abby Jiminez
Brianna and Jacob are both emergency room doctors competing for a promotion. They also are both recovering from big breakups. After Jacob overreacts to Brianna bumping him in the hallway, she thinks he’s a jerk. But then he writes her an apology letter full of emotion and vulnerability. She writes him back. And soon, they are trading letters and going on lunch dates. Eventually, Jacob agrees to be a kidney donor for Brianna’s brother. And then he asks her to be his pretend girlfriend at a wedding. This epistolary, slow burn, fake dating romance is not to be missed!
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Hana is trying to balance self-producing a podcast, an internship at a local radio station, and trying to save her family’s halal restaurant when a competitor opens in the same neighborhood. She gets support and companionship from corresponding with a fan of her podcast. But unknown to her, her pen pal is actually Aydin — the owner of the rival restaurant. Hana feels torn between the feelings she has for her pen pal and the reluctant ones that grow for Adyin. A hate crime in the neighborhood brings them even closer together but also leads to several secrets being exposed.
Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata
When Ruby signs up to write letters to a soldier who’s deployed overseas, she thinks she knows what to expect. But as the letters between her and Aaron grow deeper, feelings neither of them expected develop. Mariana Zapata is the queen of slow burn romances. And with almost the first 40% of the 500-page book being told through their letters, this might be the slowest burn of them all. But the yearning and longing is so fun to read. And once the two of them are finally on the page together, their love is well worth the wait it took to get there. Among pen pal romance novels, this is one of the most popular and beloved by readers.
Hold Me by Courtney Milan
Maria is an actuarial student at UC Berkley who anonymously runs one of the most popular nerdy math blogs on the internet. For over a year, she’s been corresponding online with her most frequent commenter, “Actual Physicist.” They email and chat for hours online and are starting to consider moving their relationship in person. But it turns out Actual Physicist is Jay, a friend of Maria’s brother working at Berkley, who Maria absolutely loathes. What ensues is a queer, STEM romance with pen pal, secret identity, and enemies-to-lovers tropes. And the combination of deep emotions and explorations of trauma with off-the-charts sexual chemistry makes this book a must read.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Marcus is the star of the biggest show on television Gods of the Gates (think Game of Thrones). He is also a huge fan of the book who secretly writes fan fiction and anonymously complains about differences between the show and the book (swoon). His favorite online buddy is April a geologist who writes fic under a pseudonym. When she decides to post a picture of herself cosplaying one of the characters under her real name, Marcus slides into her DMs to ask her on a date. He doesn’t know they’ve been writing to each other on the fan fiction forum for years. And when he finds out, he can’t risk telling her because of a clause in his contract that he never critique the show online.
Read Between the Lines by Rachel Lacey
Jane’s day job is working at her family’s real estate business. But at night, she writes steamy romance novels under a pen name. Lately, she’s been corresponding online with a fan named Rosie and wondering if they should take their relationship into real life. But Rosie is a bookstore owner whose lease is being canceled by Jane’s company. The chemistry between them in person and online is clear on every page. But what will happen when Jane and Rosie realize that their IRL enemy is also their internet crush?
Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas
In 5th grade, Misha and Ryen are set up as pen pals from different schools. For seven years, they write to each other regularly, developing a very close relationship. But the two of them have rules: no pictures, no social media, and no meeting in person. But then they end up at the same party. And Misha decides to look up Ryen on social media to see if he really met his longtime pen pal. What follows is a sexy, angst-ridden romance that keeps twisting and turning. This is huge in romance booktok. And I can see why! It’s got a very dramatic, New Adult vibe that can be compulsively readable. Just check the trigger warnings before you pick this one up if you think you might be sensitive.
The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest
In a moment of desperation and exhaustion on the NYC subway, Lily writes a startlingly vulnerable message to her favorite fantasy author through the contact form on his website. To her surprise, he writes back. And they begin a correspondence that moves from friendly to flirtatious to intimate. But then he ghosts her. And months later, when she meets her new neighbor, Nick, Lily doesn’t know that he is the author behind the pen name she was writing with. He puts it together first, but is afraid of what will happen when she finds out and also thinks he’s not good enough for her. So he agrees to help her find a date for her sister’s wedding. But when the chemistry that sparked between them via email translates to real life, Nick and Lily begin developing a connection that’s impossible to hide from. Fans of bookish romance novels need to read this one ASAP!
The Fastest Way to Fall by Denise Williams
Britta desperately wants a promotion at the lifestyle magazine where she works. She gets her chance when she’s assigned to write about her experience working with a new body-positive fitness app. Wes is the CEO of the app but decides to take on a coaching client to get back to the part of the job he loves. He and Britta are matched and start communicating through the messaging function on the app. But soon, their messages become more personal. And when they break the rules by meeting in person, both of their jobs will be at stake. I’m usually not into fitness romances, but I really liked this one. I think the difference is that it is by a fat author (who knows fat is not a negative word but a neutral body descriptor). It is a fat-positive romance, but it does include descriptions of fitness and nutrition changes, along with the danger of over-exercising (in case that is difficult for you to read about).
Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey
Thirty-year-old Teddy’s guilty pleasure is watching a local children’s TV show (think Mr. Rogers). When her boyfriend dumps her, and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life professionally, she writes a letter to the host. Everett isn’t used to getting letters from adults. But he’s captivated by the openness of Theodora’s letters. They begin writing to each other with no intention of ever meeting. But then life (or perhaps the author) forces them into each other’s lives. And they’ll have to figure out if their connection through letters is something they want to explore off the page.
I love pen pal romance novels. And researching this list gave me a few new favorites from the trope. I hope you find something swoonworthy you want to read too! If you want more romance recommendations, take a peak at 12 Hidden Identity Romance Novels or 14 Grumpy/Sunshine Romance Books.