Nearly every bookworm has, at one point in their lives, dreamed of the bookstore or library meet-cute: Perusing crowded shelves, a fellow bookworm catches your eye, strikes up a conversation and before you can recite the ISBN of your favorite title, you’re on your way to happily ever after. If that scenario sounds like your ideal way to meet your match, here are three YA novels that celebrate young love and the love of books in equal measure.
By the Book
Debut author Amanda Sellet finds inspiration in classic works of literature for her fish-out-of-water novel, By the Book. Her heroine, Mary Porter-Malcolm, has always navigated her life using lessons she’s learned from the novels she loves. So when her tiny private school abruptly shuts its doors, Mary figures she’ll confront the challenges of public high school just as her favorite Brontë heroines tackle their adversities.
Much to her surprise, a group of popular girls is drawn to Mary’s ability to put the lessons of literature to good use in separating the scoundrels from the heroes among the boys at school, and they soon become fast friends. But what happens when Mary falls for a real Vronsky type, the biggest scoundrel of all?
Mary is a fascinating character, charmingly old-fashioned in her speech and outlook but more than capable of meeting the challenges and rewards of modern life. In Sellet’s confident hands, Mary’s new friends, who could have easily fallen into “mean girl” stereotypes, are thoughtfully developed characters. Bibliophiles will enjoy quizzing themselves on the many literary allusions scattered throughout the text—and don’t worry, Sellet provides a guide in the back of the book!
Jennifer Dugan’s Verona Comics also offers plenty of allusions, primarily to the movie The Shop Around the Corner (and its beloved 1990s remake, You’ve Got Mail), but also, as the title suggests, to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Jubilee and Ridley first encounter each other at a comics convention. They hit it off immediately but, because they’re in costume, don’t know each other’s true identities. Little do they know that they’re actually sworn enemies: Jubilee’s stepmom, Vera, is an indie comic artist who also runs a beloved comics shop, while Ridley’s dad manages a huge chain of comics shops determined to put stores like Vera’s out of business. Ridley is desperate to win his dad’s approval, so he reluctantly agrees to conduct some corporate espionage at Vera’s shop, but he soon finds himself trapped between love and family loyalty when he discovers Jubilee’s identity.
As with her previous novel, Hot Dog Girl, Dugan’s new romance is a celebration of her characters’ queer identities; both Ridley and Jubilee identify as bisexual, and Jubilee has two moms. Dugan skillfully balance humorous situations (and plenty of comics fandom) with heavier fare, thoughtfully addressing issues of mental illness in a buoyant love story about forgiveness and second chances.
Like Verona Comics, Jenn Bennett’s Chasing Lucky is anchored by a bookstore. This one is located in picturesque (but sadly fictional) Beauty, Rhode Island, a coastal tourist community that bears a strong resemblance to Newport. Ever since the tension between Josie’s mom and grandmother came to a head when Josie was 12 years old, Josie’s mom hasn’t stopped moving their little family all over the East Coast. But they’re returning to Beauty for the first time in five years so that Josie’s mom can manage the family bookstore, Siren’s Book Nook, while Josie’s grandmother travels the world.
Almost immediately, Josie is thrust back into the small-town prejudices and rumor-mongering about her family. She also has to confront new and confusing feelings for her former best friend, Lucky Karras, who has undergone something of a bad-boy transformation—and become the subject of some rumors of his own—while they’ve been apart. Even as she finds herself falling for Lucky, Josie wrestles with her family’s complicated history and makes discoveries that will change how she views not only Beauty but also herself.
Bennett brings the small town of Beauty to vivid life; you’ll swear you can almost smell salty ocean air emanating from these pages. She perfectly captures Beauty’s “mix of money and weird,” as well as the way it can feel like a cage for those who don’t quite fit in. In Josie, Bennett constructs a well-developed portrait of a young woman seeking to carve out an identity for herself in a family full of strong personalities and a community that seems to have already made its mind up about her.
Every time Chasing Lucky threatens to float away into the realm of the idealized or the romanticized, Bennett pulls it back down to earth through characters who wear their messy emotions on their sleeves, as well as through a thoughtful depiction of working-class life in a place shaped by extraordinary wealth.
Editor’s note: Chasing Lucky was originally scheduled for publication on May 5, 2020, but its publication was delayed until Nov. 10, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.