From Bestie to BAE: 8 Sweet YA Friends to Lovers Romance Books
When I heard about the new Amazon show adaptation of Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, I knew I had to read the book and watch the show. Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series is one of my all-time favorite trilogies after all, and the Netflix movie adaptations are just as delightful. In the midst of reading and watching The Summer I Turned Pretty, I realized I’d come across a new favorite romance trope: friends to lovers books.
Seeing a relationship bloom from friendship to new love is so sweet. In The Summer I Turned Pretty, Belly has spent years worth of summers growing closer with Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. I still need to read the next two books in the series, so shhhh no spoilers on who she ends up with.
Thinking back on other fictional couples I’ve shipped in the past, I noticed my natural inclination towards friends to lovers. For example, I’ve been prone to die on the hill of rooting for Jo and Laurie’s friends to lovers romance in Little Women. (Though true be told, this Rioter’s take on Laurie does have me reconsidering my stance a bit). Like Belly and the Fisher brothers, Jo and Laurie bond during the time they spend together over the years as they share interests and develop trust and joy in one another’s company.
I think friends to lovers books promise such endearing romances because the characters form a solid foundation of trust and comfort with one another before they fall in love. Recently, I came across Joe Pinsker’s (2022) article in The Atlantic that explores this idea. Pinsker discusses a number of benefits that arise from dating a friend. He notes that friends who become romantic couples have a more complete idea of who their partner is when they begin dating. They also already know they enjoy spending time together.
“What’s more,” he writes, “relationships that emerge from friendships start from a place of care and warmth — which can mean avoiding the exhausting game playing that can arise between two dating-weary strangers conditioned to look out for themselves.” I can certainly slow clap to that sentiment.
So, for those who love a good friends to lovers story like I do, I’ve gathered together a list of great reads below. In the spirit of The Summer I Turned Pretty, I’m focusing on YA friends to lovers romance books.
8 YA Friends to Lovers Romance Books
Love, Decoded by Jennifer Yen
Despite the mounting pressure from college applications, Gigi Wong always finds solace from her friend Kyle’s advice and sharing bowls of ramen with him! When her teacher announces an app writing contest, Gigi puts her tech-savy skills to use, writing code for a friend matchmaker app that will help the new girl, Etta, make friends and give Gigi the boost she needs on her college apps. Between her app going viral and a school-wide scandal though, Gigi will have to do what she can to make amends with her friends, including Kyle, who she may be catching feelings for.
Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters
This next book by Julian Winters is perfect for fans of YA friends to lovers romance, comic cons, and gamers! With the start of summer, Isaac Martin wants to enjoy all the time he can get with his best friend Diego before he heads to college and has to navigate making new friends despite his social anxiety. As a last hurrah, Isaac decides to buy tickets for Diego and him to attend the epic Legends Convention and Teen Pride. Things don’t go according to plan though when Isaac runs into his old crush Davi. As sparks fly between him and Davi, Isaac will have to come to terms with what his relationship with Diego really means to him.
It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood
This YA romantic comedy by Australian author Nina Kenwood is one of my favorites. Natalie makes for a hilarious and endearing protagonist, and I really felt for her as she shared her experiences with a skin condition. While this novel starts off in friends to lovers territory, it takes a slight turn as Natalie catches surprising new feelings for her best friend’s brother.
The Lucky List by Rachael Lippincott
In this poignant, queer love story by Rachel Lippincott, we meet Emily as she navigates life in the aftermath of her mother’s death from cancer. In the summer before her senior year, Emily’s dad announces they’ll be selling her childhood home and giving away her mom’s possessions. In the midst of all of this, Emily discovers an old high school summer bucket list her mom once made. Teaming up with Blake, a girl who just moved back to town, Emily decides to take on the list so she can still feel connected with her mom. Along the way, she may find her feelings for Blake have grown more than just friendly.
This is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio
This heartfelt YA friends to lovers romance by I. W. Gregorio is another favorite of mine. In the hopes of saving her family’s Chinese restaurant, Jocelyn Wu hires her classmate, Will Domenici, as a summer intern to help with marketing. As the two put their heads together to promote Jocelyn’s family’s delicious dumplings, a friendship — and maybe something more — begins to bloom. This book also won the ALA Schneider Family Book Award for its thoughtful portrayal of depression and anxiety. Along with writing, I. W. Gregorio also works in the medical field as a surgeon, and she writes a touching author’s note about her own journey with depression.
Ready When You Are by Gary Lonesborough
Yuin author Gary Lonesborough wrote this moving YA romance about two Aboriginal boys who become friends over the course of a life-changing summer. When Jackson’s Aunty and cousins visit for the holidays, they arrive with a mysterious boy named Tomas in tow. As Jackson develops feelings for his new friend, he begins to come to terms with his queer identity.
Jackpot by Nic Stone
I’ve been intrigued by winning lottery storylines since my days of watching Lost, and this lottery ticket adventure meets friends to lovers romance by Nic Stone does not disappoint! Between school, working cashier shifts at the gas station, and taking care of her little brother, high school senior Rico doesn’t have much time for dreaming. She’s focused on helping her single mom make every paycheck stretch until the next one. Everything changes though the day Rico hears the news that the winning lottery ticket was sold at the gas station where she works. When her rich and popular classmate Zan offers to help her find the missing ticket, Rico finds her somewhat friendly feelings for Zan have become a bit more complicated.
The Charmed List by Julie Abe
Julie Abe interlaces a dash of fantasy into this YA friends to lovers romance. In the hopes of having a transformative summer, quiet girl Ellie Kobata decides to make an Anti-Wallflower List with 13 items to check off. Things don’t go according to plan though when Ellie finds herself taking a road trip along the California coast with Jack Yasuda. The pair are on their way to a magic convention, but they may just discover something magical growing between themselves too.
More Swoon-Worthy YA Romance
Whether it’s romances between best friends, new friends, unexpected friends, or friends’ siblings, these YA friends to lovers stories make for sweet summertime reads. What are your favorite YA friends to lovers romance books?
For more YA romance reads, check out the links below!