The Romantic Comedy tends to feel a bit like a lost art these days, with the box office dominated by superheroes and the bookshelves tending more strongly toward epic fantasies and contemporaries that crush your heart in an entirely different way. But YA authors have been quietly stacking the shelves with some great ones this year, and if you’re looking for laughs alongside your heart-flutters, here are some perfect picks that’ll give you just that.
(Please note that this year also had some amazing romances I wouldn’t classify as rom-coms, so while they won’t be listed below, romance lovers would be well advised to check out The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon; Even if the Sky Falls, by Mia Garcia; The Unexpected Everything, by Morgan Matson; and Girl Against the Universe, by Paula Stokes.) (And for one I’d classify more as a comedy than a romance, definitely pick up Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here, by Anna Breslaw.) (Okay, I’m done now, I swear.) (I mean, except for the books below. You still need those.)
Tell Me Three Things, by Julie Buxbaum
It’s extremely rare to see a rom-com hit the NYT bestseller list, but man does this one deserve love. Part anonymous epistolary romance and part grief story (or, as I like to call it, cishet Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Kissing in America), this is such a delightful book about a girl who has recently lost her mother and is struggling to adjust to a blended family and new school when an email graces her inbox that offers to help. With nowhere else to turn, Jessie lets the anonymous emailer help her navigate both school and life’s hardships, but she can’t let go of wanting to unmask the guy behind the IP address. But what if it isn’t the guy she’s kinda secretly hoping it is? And more importantly, what if it is?
Wanderlost, by Jen Malone
Jen Malone is no stranger to writing adorable YA (see: Map to the Stars), but for those who love books set in unfamiliar locations that also include a highly shippable romance and tons of banter, this one’s a can’t-miss. Aubree can’t seem to stay out of trouble, and when her latest escapade gets her big sister, Elizabeth, legally grounded, forcing her to miss her summer job as a European tour guide for the elderly, it’s up to Aubree to pay the ultimate price. But while you’re probably thinking “How bad is an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe, exactly?” the answer, when you’re an incident-prone flake who has to answer to another name all summer and pretend to speak a language you don’t is…kinda bad. As to whether the presence of the ridiculously adorable tour guide’s son, Sam, with whom Aubree has killer chemistry, makes things better or worse? Well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.
The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You, by Lily Anderson
Trixie Watson wants that #3 spot in the class rankings, but she’ll have to knock Ben West down to get it…which is actually a beautiful killing of two birds with one stone, since she can’t stand Ben. But then her best friend starts dating Ben’s best friend, and demands the two get along for the greater good. And when they try, it turns out they might just have more in common than just their brainpower. If we were doing movie match-ups for these books, this one would fall into 10 Things I Hate About You, which certainly makes sense, since both find their inspiration in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which here gets a smart and hilarious makeover replete with more nerdy references than a day at Comic-Con.
This Adventure Ends, by Emma Mills
Okay, I recognize that this isn’t quite a romantic comedy, but I loved the romance and laughed my butt off at this book, so I feel like it counts. Sloane (aka one of my favorite YA protagonists ever) isn’t expecting to find awesome new friends when she’s forced to relocate across the country, but find awesome new friends she does, including social media star Vera; her enigmatic twin, Gabe; and charming and inspiring “social director” Frank. Unfortunately, Sloane’s not really a master at expressing her feelings verbally; the best way she knows how to show her love and appreciation for her new friends is to go on an ill-advised quest for a painting that may or may not delight the twins…including the boy she’s developing the greatest slow-burn feelings for ever. Think an extremely low-key The Secret History combined with the high intellectual IQ/low emotional IQ main character and fandom-centric humor of Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here and you’ve got what is in my opinion the most underrated contemporary YA of the year.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, by Jaye Robin Brown
Jo’s happily out-and-proud in Atlanta, but when her radio-preacher father’s remarriage moves her to small-town Georgia, her new stepfamily requests she go back in the closet. Jo grudgingly acquiesces, knowing it’s just for a year and that she has plenty to gain from jumping on board (including her own radio show, on which she hopes to deal with queer issues for teens in similar situations). But it turns out the girl she’s crushing on is crushing right back, and eager to take the brave leap out of the closet she thinks Jo’s similarly stuck in. Can Jo come out (again!) for the girl of her dreams? Filled with southern charm and mastering the delicate balance of queerness and religion, Brown’s sophomore novel might be on the more bittersweet side of funny, but it’s one hundred percent happily ever after.
It’s Not Me, it’s You, by Stephanie Kate Strohm
I don’t like to play favorites, but if I did, this might be my favorite YA rom-com ever, especially if you judge by number of literal LOLs. And if you love the sweet, naive-but-not-dumb, well-meaning popular girl that is Clueless‘s Cher, you will absolutely adore Avery Dennis, the girl at this book’s heart. Avery’s been dumped at the worst time ever, and she can’t stop wondering why. So when she’s assigned to do an oral history for one of her classes, she knows the perfect subject: her romantic past. With the help of her lab partner, Avery sets about interviewing her past flames and any other classmates who might lend insight into her failures of the heart. And while her teacher isn’t spectacularly on board with the idea of this being her report, there is definite good to come from Avery’s research into why she can’t seem to hold onto a guy…and it’s just too cute for me to spoil. If you’ve already read and loved Tell Me Three Things? Make sure this is the next one on your list.
Cherry, by Lindsey Rosin
This debut’s movie match-up? American Pie, if American Pie were centered around girls instead of guys and also wasn’t totally heteronormative. Best friends Layla, Alex, Emma, and Zoe are a team, and when one announces she’s determined to lose her virginity by the end of the year, the rest agree to join her in her quest. Even though one has already technically done it. Even though one has no idea how to even talk to guys. And even though one doesn’t really care (but will end up losing it twice, in a manner of speaking). This book is so much of what girls in YA rarely seem to get: completely centered around sex-positivity in a fun way, with a great friendship at its core. And it’s what queer girls in YA never get: to be part of that.
Shuffle, Repeat, by Jen Klein
June and Oliver are neighbors, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily want anything to do with each other, and even a maybe-mutual attraction is irrelevant considering they’re both dating other people. But while they may not be BFFs, their moms are, and that means Oliver has been assigned to drive June to school every morning, whether they like it or not. And considering how much their tastes in music clash, the answer is decidedly “not.” Until they get to know each other a little better, and introducing each other to their favorites becomes fun, and the banter becomes adorable, and…oh, you see where this is wonderfully going, and with a great cast, too.
Little Black Dresses, Little White Lies, by Laura Stampler
This delightful debut’s movie match-up would be How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and as someone with a lot of NYC media intern experience, I had some pretty heavy appreciation for both the adorable premise and the fabulous execution: a teen blogger gets an internship at a magazine, only to realize it was her lifted-from-her-best-friend’s-life application essay that got her the job…as their dating guru, who happens to have no experience in dating. But learning on the job turns out to make for some excellent material, if she can just keep the secret of how she got the gig in the first place and hold everything together as a New York City dater…
The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions), by Amy Spalding
New guys are intriguing enough as it is, but when that new guy is Alex Powell, former boy bander? Let’s just say there’s no ignoring his presence, no matter how much Jules might want to, in order to maintain her overachievements and hold her own in the newspaper battle that’s tearing the school apart. But it turns out Alex is pretty damn charming, and he might be worth a little distraction…at least until he takes the opposing side in the fight that’s defining Jules’s entire senior year. Now she has no idea who she can trust, but she knows there’s no room for that kind of betrayal in her life, even if it comes from someone ridiculously cute. Spalding is at her relatable-heroine rom-com peak here, which, if you’ve read her backlist, you know is about the highest praise possible.
I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, by Gretchen McNeil
Beatrice is into math, going to MIT, hanging out with her similarly nerdy best friends, and Jesse, her new boyfriend. But when new girl Toile hits the scene and lures Jesse away with her preciousness, Bea decides it’s time to get new priorities in order. Devising a formula for popularity, she changes her vibe to become Trixie, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who charms the pants off the school (and potentially off Jesse, too). But Bea’s BFFs don’t appreciate being changed along with her, and they certainly don’t like who she has become. Which makes sense…because she doesn’t really like herself either. Is it too late to get herself back? And is there any happiness left to be found if she does? It’s hard to imagine the murderous mind behind books like Ten gave us such a sweet and sassy read, but sorry, horror—we’re keeping this version of McNeil and we’re not giving her back without a fight. Or at least without another rom-com.
The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, by Sarvenaz Tash
I’m kind of a broken record about Tash and her frightening skill at pacing a book perfectly over a three-day span, but if you’ve ever fallen deeply into one of her rom coms, you’ll understand. And if you haven’t, ta da! Here’s a perfect place to start, with the story of nerd boy Graham; his unrequited love for his best friend, Roxie; and three days of New York Comic-Con in all its glory. Graham is positive NYCC is the perfect place to finally confess his love, but when Roxie clicks with a guy there practically before the Con even begins, all his plans get a whole lot messier. References and fandom and John Hughes love abound in this smart, goofy, hilarious story of two best friends who may or may not be meant to be more.