The one where they master romance

The best and worst of YA romance novels


Annika Pepper

It’s hard to write a romance novel, but it seems especially hard to write one that’s extraordinary. Romance tastes best when it’s little something extra rather than an integral part of the book.

A staple of young adult literature is unarguably the element of romance. But anyone who claims romance is necessary for young adult literature was surely wrong.

More often than not, YA authors fall short on trying to write a realistic, swoon-worthy romance for their intended audience. Instead, they write a complete cringe-fest of a romance novel, packing it with clichés and lackluster emotion. So what makes these cases so abundant? And what do the good ones do right?

First, from least to most awful, here are my picks for the worst romance stories ever written.


No. 3: The “Delirium” trilogy by Lauren Oliver  

Coming up third on this list of terrible romance stories is Lauren Oliver’s “Delirium” trilogy. This set of books is a dystopian nightmare of a world where love is viewed as a disease that all people need to be cured of.

This obviously presents some problems, as the society in this story isn’t just curing romantic love but rather all forms of love. Sibling and parental relationships are as unfeeling and cold as a school acquaintance might be and the book even touches on the subject of mothers abandoning their own children because of this.

Rather than focus on these dramatic elements of this world, the novel is used as a breeding ground for a flopped romance novel. Our amazingly mediocre main character, Lena, is ready and excited for the procedure that will cure her of the aforementioned disease. However, when the simple life Lena has always wanted is in her sights, she meets a boy (Gasp!). This boring boy character believes love is good (Whaaaat?). Oh, and spoiler alert, they fall in love. No one saw that one coming.

The trilogy’s beyond predictable plot and superbly boring characters are what land it on number three of this list. Oliver attempts to make something unique, but the truth is that dystopian romance is overdone and uninspired. Writing a romance novel can’t be rushed, and readers need to want the characters to get together. It can’t just happen.

When characters get together too easily, it’s dull. It doesn’t matter how outrageous outside circumstances make the romance, the romance itself needs to be more desirable. The story is too predictable and it ends up falling flat on its face.  

Alfred A. Knopf

No. 2: “Every Day” by David Levithan

By all means, this book could be number one on this list. However, it has one thing that the worst book on this list does not: a plot. “Every Day” by David Levithan tells the story of a being named A that wakes up in a different body each day. One day, A ends up in the body of a boy whose girlfriend A falls in love with. From this point onward, A will do whatever it takes to be with this girl again.

This book could have been good, which only makes its failure more disappointing. This book could have made a statement about learning to love someone no matter what shape, size, color or gender the person comes in, but it does not.

Love interest Rhiannon is about as accepting as Westboro Baptist Church on Sunday. While she is able to accept A while they are in a male body, she seems most comfortable when that body is white, skinny, and clearly masculine. Variation from this type makes her standoffish and judgmental. How could a book with a plot readily available for a storyline of acceptance screw up so badly that it goes in the complete opposite direction?

Instead of a love story that transcends all physical limitations, readers get an inconclusive bag of cow manure that somehow made it to the bookstore shelf. All plots that have even the slightest bit of potential in this book go absolutely nowhere. Under no circumstances is this book something worth reading. Then again, at least it has a plot.

Little, Brown, and Company

No. 1: “The Twilight Saga” by Stephenie Meyer

Remember when I said that at least “Every Day” has a plot? Well, you can’t say that about this abomination of a book. “The Twilight Saga” is the story of a girl named Bella who falls in love with a vampire named Edward. There’s not much else to this love story, yet somehow this series sparked its own movie adaptations.

There’s not much to say about this book because the book doesn’t say much. The romance is predictable and easy, and Edward is a stalker-pedophile hybrid. Just because he looks eighteen doesn’t make it okay. Mr. Hearthrob here is actually over a hundred years older than his main squeeze.

Bella is just as terrible a character. She is spineless and lacks personality completely. When Edward breaks up with her at one point, she becomes catatonic and readers spend far too much time listening to how much she misses her blood-sucking boyfriend. There is nothing here to enjoy, so steer clear of this series entirely.

Honorable mentions for this list include the “Divergent” series by Veronica Roth and the “Matched” trilogy by Ally Condie. Both of these books have cringy dystopian plots and predictable romances that drag down any good aspects they do have.

What makes all these books similar to each other and so horrible is that the romance is not well balanced with the rest of the book. The romances can’t overpower the plot, and they certainly can’t be the plot. The romance also needs to be something that readers want to cheer for. Readers need to want it to happen.

Thankfully, there are books out there that have done this perfectly. The best young adult romance novels ever written from amazing to absolute best are as follows.

St. Martin’s Press

No. 3: “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell  

Rainbow Rowell is a lesser-known author, but she earns a place on this list. Her writing is profoundly elegant and beautiful. Most writers wish they could write like she does, and it seems as though Rowell has a particular knack for romance.

She can make readers swoon for anything, including two awkward teenagers trying to navigate their first relationship. “Eleanor and Park” is about just that.

Eleanor is the red-headed new girl to the school who is ridiculed for being fat. Park is her accidental seatmate on the bus ride to school who likes comic books and listening to music on his Walkman.

The romance between them may be somewhat predictable, but it’s the buildup and beautiful writing that makes this book so spectacular. A relationship in a book doesn’t have to be a surprise to make it interesting and this book proves that.

Readers will be rooting for Eleanor and Park from the first page until the very last.

Dutton Juvenile

No. 2: “Looking for Alaska” by John Green

You can’t make a list of the best romance novels and not include at least one John Green book. While all his books are just beautiful, “Looking for Alaska” is one that really tugged at my heartstrings.

Before — Miles “Pudge” Halter is bored of his safe life at home and his obsession with famous last words makes him crave “the Great Perhaps” (famous last words Francois Rabelais). It isn’t until he attends Culver Creek Boarding School that he really begins to live. There, he meets Alaska Young, a rebellious, beautiful, independent girl that will rock Pudge’s world.

One of the best things about this book, and John Green’s writing in general, is his characters. They are all so special and unique, making readers fall for them every time.

His characters make the story, and Green’s spectacular writing makes it all the more amazing. Readers will cry and laugh and feel with the characters throughout the book and, just like for Pudge, nothing will ever be the same — after.

No. 1: “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater

Scholastic Press

To be honest, all of these books deserve to be at the top of this list. “The Raven Cycle,” in general, is the epitome of amazing writing. The fact that there is romance mixed into this action-adventure extravaganza is just a bonus.

The Raven Cycle revolves around four boys, The Raven Boys, and a girl named Blue. Gansey, the leader of this little friend group, is on a hunt for a Welsh king and has been for years. His friends – Adam, the scholarship student; tough, rebellious Ronan; and mysterious Noah Czerny – are all along for the ride on his quest. Blue, on the other hand, lives with a group psychics and has grown up knowing that kissing her true love will get that person killed.

The romance has a slow build up, which might irritate some readers, but there is plenty else to focus on when there’s no romance.

— Staff Writer Sophia Bender

It might sound confusing, but this whole web of characters and who they are makes for one of the most amazing set of books you will ever read. Their interactions with each other and their dynamic personalities as well as Stiefvater’s elegant writing blend together to make for one of the most powerful reading experiences you will have.

The romance doesn’t at all detract from the storyline but in fact makes it more interesting. The romance has a slow build up, which might irritate some readers, but there is plenty else to focus on when there’s no romance. Drawing it out also makes it that much more rewarding.

The honorable mention for this list goes to “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver. The romance isn’t a very big part of the book, but readers will spend the better part of the book rooting for it to happen. This book also proves that isn’t always the author that makes the book bad as Oliver wrote the “Delirium” trilogy that was previously mentioned. I believe that it has more to do with the characters and the story that was being told to create a better romance.

So what went wrong in the books on my first list? They probably all could have used a couple more rounds of editing at minimum, but those books didn’t make it on there just because of that. When writing something, whether its romance or not, writers need to thank about the message they’re trying to send or the story they’re trying to tell and be able to see if that is coming across in the book. It can be hard to look at your own book so critically, but it is extremely important.

In the metaphorical recipe of an excellent book, romance should be the icing on top, not the flour for the cake.

— Staff Writer Sophia Bender

The same things that make good books good are what make bad books bad. Stiefvater’s characters are all unique and independent yet they have a healthy and loving relationship with each other. They support and help each other through everything they can, but can also survive on their own when needed.

Meyer’s character’s, however, are the complete opposite. Bella, for example, seems to lack any kind of backbone whatsoever and can’t survive without Edward. This paints a picture of an unhealthy relationship as being okay when it isn’t. No one should be so dependent on a significant other (especially if that person is a blood-sucking vampire who watches you sleep at night). What kind of message are you sending to the young girls reading your book?

It takes a combination of well-developed characters, a captivating plot, and decent world-building skills to create a well-written book, regardless of whether the writer includes romance.

In the metaphorical recipe of an excellent book, romance should be the icing on top, not the flour for the cake. So writers, if you’re trying to write a book, it doesn’t have to have romance, but if it does, make the icing nice and sweet.