It’s important to set an intention for a new year. I try to start my bookish year with hope and positivity and love. I know it’s just the next month on the calendar, but the new year feels different. My Goodreads shelf is back at zero, and I have an endless sea of possibilities for shaping my next reading year. There’s no genre more full of hope, positivity, and love than YA romance. First love is a feeling like no other. When my jaded, elder millennial heart needs a pick-me-up, reading a story about two people falling in love for the first time always sets me right.
This is also the wish I have for you all this new year. After the holidays and onslaught of resolutions and dark (in the Northern Hemisphere) January days, a YA romance might be just what you all need as well. I wish you hope and love in all your bookish endeavors! So, in the spirit of positive starts, I’ve compiled a list of YA romances to start 2023 off on the right foot. Let these teens be in the awkward, angsty situations, not us. These books are sure to set your reading year in the right direction.
She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick
Alex is a manic pixie flirt whose (hopefully not for long) ex doesn’t think she’s serious about commitment. Molly has everything in her life on track, except for how to have human interactions without making everyone involved uncomfortable. The night before classes start on a fresh semester, Alex and Molly’s paths cross, and Alex learns about Molly’s unrequited crush. This is something Alex can help with. And if it shows her ex how generous and magnanimous she is in the process, more the better. As they start to work together and get ready for Molly’s glow up, feelings between them start to develop as well, but they both have to swallow their pride and admit to the other how they feel.
Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert
Talia Hibbert’s first YA does not disappoint and has all the hallmarks that her readers have come to love and look for. Witty banter? Check. Neurodiverse characters? Check. Pining at a 10? Check. Bradley and Celine used to be friends before he got popular at school and she got popular online. Now they don’t even acknowledge each other in the hallways. When they both sign up for an outdoor survival course that’s also a competition, they are forced to pair up and both want to win. By the end they might realize what, or who, the real prize is.
Salaam with Love by Sara Sharaf Beg
Dua always wanted to go to New York City, but not to spend a month in Queens crammed into a house with her extended family — who are basically strangers — during Ramadan. She has a hard time finding where she belongs in this conservative family, even connecting with her cousin, Mahnoor, who is engaged to be married. As if fasting all day weren’t hard enough, a cute drummer in a Muslim band, Hassan, has a knack for showing up whenever Dua is being her most awkward. In this coming of age story, Dua learns a lot about family, faith, and romantic love.
The One True Me and You by Remi K. England
Fanfic author Kaylee Beaumont is totally geeking out at the chance to finally meet her fandom friends in real life at GreatCon. She’s going to have a chance to try on they/them pronouns, wear masculine cosplay, and just maybe kiss a girl for the first time. Okay, that last one is out of her control, but dodging her high school bully is on the list, too. Pageant queen Teagan Miller is in town to lock down the $25,000 scholarship money that comes with winning Miss Cosmic Teen USA. If she can hold everything together for one more weekend, then she can go to college and be out and proud. She just has to beat her rival, Miss North Carolina, who is one and the same as Kay’s bully. When the two meet, they have an intense emotional connection. If either gets caught, they could both have secrets exposed, but it might just be worth it.
You, Me, and Our Heartstrings by Melissa See
Daisy and Noah both want the same thing, but they can’t agree on how to get it. Using the holiday concert to get into Juilliard is a smart plan, but cellist Noah wants to stay traditional, and risk-taker violinist Daisy wants to try something new. The connection between them is intense, which shows in their performance. They end up playing a duet that goes viral, but not for the reasons they’d hoped. All the world can focus on is the romance between Daisy, who has cerebral palsy and plays sitting down, and Noah, whose anxiety goes through the roof at all the attention from fame. According to them, he’s a saint for seeing past her disability and she’s a hero for becoming as accomplished as she is. Daisy is tired of the world only seeing her disability when they look at her, and their dream is so close from the world looking at them, but the two have to decide if it’s really worth it. Or maybe, they can have both the dream of being together and the dream of resounding musical success.
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Sharlot Citra’s mother takes her halfway around the world from L.A. to Indonesia after being caught in a “compromising” position. Her mom is sure that her native country is just the thing to get her daughter back on the right track, and if she can set her up with a nice Indonesian boy while there, what’s the harm? George Clooney Tanuwijaya’s father is worried that his son isn’t listening to him anymore. So the parents take to the internet and strike up a conversation while pretending to be their children. George and Sharlot are horrified by their parents’ actions and are sure that even trips to the most romantic places on Earth won’t get them to like each other. But the more time they spend together, the more they realize that maybe their parents weren’t so far off.
Salt and Sugar by Rebecca Carvalho
Lari and Pedro’s families have been enemies for generations. Both families own bakeries across the street from each other and have been feuding for years. Salt, Lari’s bakery, and Sugar, Pedro’s bakery, are both threatened in a big box supermarket comes to town. Lari has an idea how to save both bakeries, but she’ll need Pedro’s help to get it done. As the two start on the plan, they start to realize that they might not know each other as well as they thought. Not only that, but they might actually like who the other person is.
Seoulmates by Susan Lee
Hannah Cho has a perfect plan for her last year in high school: fun summer with her boyfriend, Nate, and an amazing senior year with all her friends. But Nate breaks it off before summer even really starts, claiming they have nothing in common. He loves K-pop and K-dramas, and Hannah does not embrace the Korean side of her Korean American identity. Jacob Kim, Hannah’s former best friend, knows K-dramas. In fact, he’s starring in one. The fame is getting to be too much and he wants to go back to San Diego to reconnect with Hannah and take some time away. Hannah and Jacob definitely reconnect, and as more than just friends, but now her ex-boyfriend wants her back, too.
If you liked this list and are looking for more YA romance recommendations, you should check out 8 sweet friends to lovers YA novels and 12 YA romance titles that make me want to be a teen again.