Sure, we all love our Romeos and Juliets, our boys from the wrong side of the tracks meeting poor little rich girls, our fighting-like-cats-and-dogs-until-that-fateful-kiss couples. But romance isn’t the only thing that defines the teen years. Here are seven YAs with surprising, complicated pairings—that are entirely platonic.
Tu Reh and Chiko (Bamboo People, by Mitali Perkins)
You can’t blame Chiko for being angry. Tricked into becoming a child soldier, he’s had to harden his exterior to survive. Tu Reh, whose village was burned by the Burmese army Chiko is forced to represent, is naturally wary when he encounters Chiko and has the chance to save his life. But are they really enemies, or is the real enemy the oppressive Burmese government that has turned the minority groups of Myanmar against each other?
Wren and Darra (Hidden, by Helen Frost)
Childhood trauma is hard to deal with, and Wren, who was accidentally kidnapped as a kid when her family van was stolen, certainly has it. It was Darra’s father who stole the van and Darra who found Wren hiding in their garage. When the two run across each other at summer camp, they recognize each other immediately and are at a loss as to how to proceed, but the girls around them just see petty drama. How do you confront someone you resent because of what her father did to you?
Jake and Ram (He Forgot to Say Goodbye, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz)
This relationship is a spin on the classic Lady and the Tramp–style pairing. Poor little rich boy Jake, who is white, struggles to resist his mother and stepfather’s conservative politics and classist attitudes towards his classmates. Ram has a single mother and lives on the “wrong” side of town, but he’s smart and avoids the gangs and drugs his brother is into. The boys meet and are drawn to each other even without realizing they have something in common—a missing biological father whose absence affects them emotionally as they grow up and find themselves betrayed by their families.
Jason and Jason (My Name is Jason. Mine Too., by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin)
One is white and one is black. One makes art and the other writes poetry. What makes this book hard to describe is also what puts it on this list: it’s a combination of fragments, thoughts, pictures, ideas, and feelings from two people who met simply because they were matched as college roommates.
Dess and Hope (Peas and Carrots, by Tanita S. Davis)
Dess just wants to be reunited with her baby brother, but that means going to live with his foster family, since they haven’t seen their biological mother in years. And when Dess arrives, she finds she has a foster sister just her age, Hope. They are instant enemies. Hope sees Dess as rude, and she doesn’t like that Dess already seems to be fitting in with the cooler kids at school. But being forced to live together helps them to start seeing the ways they can help each other.
Baltasar and Catalina (Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski)
Baltasar is one of those kids who always gets into trouble, but always weasels out of it by telling fantastical stories—until he doesn’t. Forced on a mission to track down a mysterious sorcerer, Baltasar finds himself leaving his homeland of Spain on one of Christopher Columbus’ ships. When another one of his stories goes wrong, he’s washed ashore on an island with an annoying cabin boy—who turns out to be Catalina, who disguised herself as a boy in order to escape an arranged marriage. Catalina doesn’t feel the need to stay out of the spotlight, though, and she acts in strong opposition to the men around her, especially when Christopher Columbus turns out to be more interested in pillaging than exploring.
Noa and Peter (Don’t Turn Around, by Michelle Gagnon)
There’s no reason these two should meet. Noa is a girl who grew up in the foster system, and she’s on the run after waking up on a gurney in what is definitely not a hospital. Peter, on the other hand, is a bored rich kid who hacks into his father’s company’s servers just to prove he can. But Noa is a hacker, too, and they’ll find that where she woke up is connected to what Peter may have just found on one of his hacking sprees.