Summer Love for All—YA Romance 2022

The Feeling of Falling in Love

The Feeling of Falling in Love
Mason Deever
Scholastic/Push
August 2, 2022

When his perfect friends with benefits situation is complicated by feelings—yikes—Neil panics. But instead of talking things out, he determines the best way to help Josh get over him is to fake a new relationship with the roommate he barely tolerates. A conscientious student and budding musician, Wyatt agrees to the plan in exchange for a potential audition with Neil’s music exec brother. But a family wedding in Beverly Hills is a long way, in every way, from their North Carolina boarding school. And if Neil thinks he’s a complicated mess, introducing sweet, sensitive Wyatt to his mother’s performative allyship and his grandparents’ transphobia only adds to it. As fake feelings turn real, Neil realizes he deserves better than he’s had and that Wyatt deserves better too. So it’s time to be better. Though not an especially sympathetic character, Deaver draws Neil as a messy and emotional jerk who is ultimately capable of change. Tenderly awkward Wyatt is an adorable foil and rounds out Neil’s found family of LGBTQ friends and support. This train wreck turned love story is full of snarky humor, complex friendships, and just the right amount of angsty YA romance.

Love from Scratch

Love from Scratch
Kaitlyn Hill
Penguin Random House/Delacorte
April 5, 2022

Landing a coveted summer marketing internship with the foodie channel Friends of Flavor is a dream come true for super-fan Reese Camden. The Seattle media company is worlds away from her Kentucky home and the social media trolling nightmare that was her high school years. Thrown into a video with fellow intern and charming cooking wiz, Benny Beneventi, turns her summer upside down. Her safely behind-the-scenes job is suddenly not so hidden when their video is a viral sensation and becomes a regular feature on the channel. And friendly competition turns serious when the two are pitted against each other for the chance to stay on with the company come fall. What’s more important, her career goals or her potential romance? Hill throws plenty of obstacles in Reese’s way (internet trolls, sleazy executives, and LOTS of self-doubt), balanced by supportive friends and goofy, but loveable Benny. Reese’s work ethic, perseverance, and her desire to make a difference for the channel, keep things from getting too saccharine. A perfect sweet and salty combo!

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding
Sajni Patel
Abrams/Amulet
April 19, 2022

Music college dreams hit family responsibility reality for hip hop violin phenom, Zuri Damani. Her college hopes seem dashed for good by a rejection letter from Juilliard, but a local competition offers a second chance if only she can fit it into a week packed with wedding prep, wedding photography, and LOTS of wedding parties. And hide it all from her very traditional, law-school-plotting parents. When her biggest competition turns out to be the heartthrob cousin of her future brother-in-law, Zuri turns challenge into inspiration. Support from a big, sneaky group of cousins and a growing rivalry/friendship with Naveen (the heartthrob) push her to get creative to follow her dreams and be there for her family. Well drawn primary characters, exhibiting all the insecurities, bravado, and creativity of teenagers, are balanced by very involved, if sometimes domineering adult family members. Full of vibrant colors, music, and smells that drift tantalizingly off the page, Patel pulls the reader right into the party and all the chaos you’d imagine from an 8-day wedding extravaganza.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You

Nothing Burns as Bright as You
Ashley Woodfolk
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify
April 5, 2022

This stark and beautiful novel in verse follows two unnamed queer black girls in a dual-timeline look at how they came together and how they burned it all down in the end. As their relationship moves beyond just friendship, their unhealthy and unbalanced dynamic begins to wear them both down. The neediness and desperation of the narrator and episodes of aloofness from a love interest only referred to as “You” foreshadow the moment one draws the other over the edge of self-destruction. The girls start a fire in a school dumpster, leading to the eventual destruction of their relationship. Woodfolk uses fire imagery throughout the novel, evoking volatile emotions, incredible passion, and actual acts of arson. Verses often flash back to their very different childhoods and follow a winding path exploring struggles with adultification, neglect, and the need to be seen. Spare language and many quick, yet powerful verses create a quick read that packs a powerful punch.  

Rivals

Rivals: American Royals III
Katherine McGee
Random House
May 31, 2022

In an alternate reality America, a royal family—the Washingtons—rules the country and they provide all the drama and romance one might expect of young royals. Newly crowned Queen Beatrice is learning how to rule while navigating a relationship with a disgruntled fiancé, who will always come in second place to her job. After years of being the Party Princess, Samantha has finally fallen in love with a future Duke, but with her relationship under a microscope, she might just be ready to run away from her royal duties for good. Prince Jefferson, the family heartthrob, has his pick of girls: Daphne, his on again off again girlfriend; Nina, his friend, turned lover; and Gabriella, a ruthless noble bent on becoming a princess. Three intertwined storylines follow the siblings as they deal with life, love, and friendship in the royal spotlight. McGee weaves themes of love and angst, with grief, guilt, and glamor to create an emotional connection to characters that might otherwise seem far removed from us commoners. This third installment in the series builds on their glittering world and complicated relationships, and ends on the perfect cliffhanger to leave royal-watchers on the lookout for volume four (coming 2023).


What’s on your summer romance reading list?

PCP Two of Hearts: The Thing About Luck

the thing about luckThe Thing About Luck

by Cynthia Kadohata, with illustrations by Julia Kuo

Atheneum, 2013

I am a huge fan of Cynthia Kadohata’s work. Huge. I was on the committee that selected Kira-Kira, her first book for children, as the 2005 Newbery Medal winner, and I have loved every subsequent book. There is a quiet, raw honesty that runs through her writing, a transparency of language that sneaks up on you and, out of events that seem mundane, delivers something exquisite and profound. It’s like magic.

The Thing About Luck tells the story of a Japanese American farming family toiling amidst a flurry of bad luck. Sunny’s parents have been called away to Japan on emergency family business, leaving Sunny and her little brother Jaz in the care of her grandparents Obaachan and Jiichan, saddled with the back-breaking work of itinerant, contract wheat harvesting. Kadohata paints the circumstances in vivid, albeit plainspoken detail: Sunny’s fear of mosquitoes (she had malaria once); Jaz’s difficulty connecting; Obaachan’s strict, traditional ways; Jiichan’s tireless effort; and an impossibly thorough explanation farm machinery. And somehow, in the spaces between these definitions and explanations, she offers a tender, immediate, indelible portrait of family that is as touching as it is unique. These are people who love one another deeply, and Kadohata’s ability to show us that love, in the conflicts and struggles that would threaten it, is simply staggering.

Openly Straight

Openly StraightOpenly Straight

by Bill Konigsberg

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013.

In the hilarious comedy Anger Management, Jack Nicholson’s character (a therapist) asks Adam Sandler’s character (an average Joe businessman) who he is (see video below). Adam Sandler answers with thoughts about his job, his personality, and his “likes.” Jack Nicholson pushes, and says “No, those are things ABOUT you. I want to know WHO YOU ARE.” An entertaining dialogue pursues, and the movie goes on.

Who are you?

Quite the question, huh? Often times, when I get asked this question when meeting someone new, my stomach feels like someone forced Robitussin cough syrup down my throat (the worst thing I can remember tasting in my life). Who am I? A graduate student. A dog lover. A dancer. A musician. A writer. I work at a library and I’m a middle child and in my spare time I do aerial acrobatics and play piano. My favorite candy is Laffy Taffy.

All of this is true. But is it really who I am? WHAT DOES THAT QUESTION MEAN?

Part of the problem is that we aren’t defined just by our own labels. Other people have labeled me, and in ways I don’t always like. Blonde. Overly Sensitive. A Pushover. Sometimes, I believe or become those things because someone else labeled me that way. Labeling is a scary, slippery slope, and it happens every day to everyone.

In Bill Konigsberg’s new YA novel, Openly Straight, seventeen-year-old Rafe is sick of his label. He’s been “the gay boy” since he came out in eighth grade, and it has become exhausting. He knows he’s got it lucky—he lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he isn’t bullied in school, his parents fully accept his sexuality, and he has good friends. But he’s been defined by this one label for so long that he feels like his other parts have disappeared. So he takes a risk and transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England to try out a new method of self-expression—being “openly straight.”

For a while, life is fabulous. Rafe discovers his love of sports, hones his gift of creative writing, and fulfills his desire to be seen as Rafe, not Gay Rafe. But of course, there is another boy in this book—a boy that Rafe falls for, and complication ensues. Konignsberg writes his first-person narrative with a quirky grace and his dialogue with honesty and intelligence. His ability to build relationships between characters and willingness to ask thought-provoking, challenging questions to his reader is exceptional.

There’s still more to this book that I’m not including; something that is very hard to put into words. Alas, I will try.

We all want to be taken for the entire, deeply layered, multi-dimensional person that we are. I know I don’t want one of my labels to define me, but I do want the sum of my PARTS to define me. There is a type of psychotherapy called “Parts therapy,” which is based on the concept that we are complex human beings that have many different parts within us. I have a sensitive Part, but I also have a bold Part. I am a creative artist, but I am also a researcher and scholar. I don’t want to get stuck in one Part, and I don’t want to get hidden beneath a Part so no one sees any of the other Parts. Is my sexuality important? Of course. Does it define WHO I AM? No, it’s a Part. There is no Me without every Part that exists within me, and if I deny a Part of me, I’m not really Me either. Parts are fluid. They are not static; they change as we change. Openly Straight is poignant and powerful because it both asks and challenges the question: WHO ARE YOU?

Rafe would have to answer that question for himself, but I’m guessing he would say that he’s many, many things, but most of all he’s human. I would tell him that I’m the same, and that I’m a system of Parts that all work together to create the one—and only—me.

Just like you.

Maggot Moon

maggot moon

Maggot Moon

by Sally Gardner

Candlewick/Brilliance Audio, 2013

There is so much I want to say about this book. So much. But each and every element or facet or consequence I might mention would rob you of the opportunity to experience it yourself, thereby diminishing your encounter. Even saying that much feels like something of a spoiler.

So I’ll make just these few short comments:

1) Every now and again you read something that feels actually new. This is one of those stories.

2) For a good while you will feel disoriented. Stick it out. It’s worth it.

3) There are some powerful, interactive spot illustrations in the print book that contribute to the mood. The audiobook is sharp and reserved and extraordinary. Take your pick.

4) Please read this book as soon as you can, then find me so we can talk about it.