I was a big romance reader as a teen, so I confess I was a little surprised to realize there was a high demand for YA books without romance when I worked as a teen librarian. But it makes sense—your teen years are busy, not everyone dates or is ready to date, and there’s so much soul-searching that goes on, sometimes there isn’t a lot of room for romance. Here are three recent YA novels that don’t include romance, but are full of fantastic friendships, sleuthing, and hard-hitting explorations of life.
The Silence of Bones by June Hur
Seol is an indentured servant in 1800 Joseon (Korea). She works for the police bureau in the capital city, where she assists police inspectors in their investigations involving women. Because of Confucian law, men aren’t allowed to touch women not related to them, even in death—so they bring along Seol. When a noblewoman’s murder shakes the city, Seol’s curiosity is piqued and she begins asking her own questions. That’s when she learns that the victim had connections to a fugitive Catholic priest wanted by the authorities, and that this mystery is much bigger—and much more personal—than she could have anticipated. This is an excellent historical mystery that asks big questions about family, religion, morality, and what it means to belong.
The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Sage is a star volleyball player who has scouts coming to her matches and is hopeful for a scholarship to college. Len is a loner photographer who is still struggling to come to terms with a traumatic incident. When Sage receives a devastating health diagnosis that snatches away her hopes of every playing again, she befriends Len and the two of them find some small measure of comfort in each other’s presence. They both understand why it’s like to struggle with something that no one else sees or understands. But when Len’s trauma-induced OCD gets worse and Sage makes some risky choices, their new friendship is put to the test. This is a memorable book about mental health and the sustaining power of friendship.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Jam is a trans girl living in a utopian society called Lucille. In Lucille, she’s accepted and supported, as is every member of society—but it wasn’t always like this. She’s grown up hearing stories of how before she and her best friend Redemption were born, the angels banished all of the monsters, and since then Jam has been curious about what monsters look like. One day, a terrifying creature called Pet steps from one of her mother’s paintings and informs Jam that there’s one last monster left to fight in Lucille, and it lives in Redemption’s house. Terrified by what this might mean, Jam reluctantly agrees to go monster-hunting, but she isn’t quite prepared for what she might find. This is a powerful and unusual book about keeping vigilant, and learning that monsters and angels might not look like what we expect.
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