Favorite Depictions of Love in YA Books


Happy Valentine’s Day! Love is in the air (and in our favorite novels). Books have a magical way of tugging at the heartstrings, and at portraying the complex and magical nature of this emotion. Whether it be romantic or platonic, literature often paints a beautiful portrait of love, and the following young adult books and characters provide some of the most wonderful depictions of it.

1. Cath and Levi, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

“‘Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,’ Wren said. ‘It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.’”

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl follows Cath, a freshman in college who, as the title of the book suggests, is a complete fangirl. Cath spends most of her time reading and writing fanfiction about the fictional Simon Snow series, preferring to spend time in the company of fictional characters than her peers in college. Separated from her twin sister for the first time in their lives, Cath experiences a large amount of anxiety, compounded by her disgruntled roommate Reagan and Reagan’s (maybe?) boyfriend, Levi. As Reagan and Levi attempt to pull Cath out of her shell, Cath learns that a great life may exist beyond the confines of her room, if only she is brave enough to seek it out. Throughout this journey, Cath and Levi grow closer, and form a beautiful connection that challenges many of Cath’s preconceived notions about romance, Levi, and herself.

The romantic relationship that blossoms between Levi and Cath over the course of this novel
is wholesome and heartwarming. They each are able to support each other in different ways,
and express a desire to make each other better. Levi helps ground Cath, and looks at the
world with an undiluted optimism that inspires her. On the flip side, Cath pushes Levi to be
confident in his abilities as a student and a person and helps him see the value in his own life

goals and interests. A story of two people who found each other at a time in which they both
needed it the most, the romantic narrative of Cath and Levi is one for the ages.

2. The Crows, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

“No mourners. No funerals. Among them, it passed for ‘good luck.’”

Ketterdam is a fierce city, made for the slyest (and slimiest) of thieves, descriptions that suit teen Kaz Brekker to a T. Brekker, the leader of a local gang and a feared criminal prodigy in Ketterdam, is offered a huge sum to attempt to rescue the inventor of a powerful drug from an impenetrable fortress in the nation of Fjerda. To complete this mission, Brekker recruits Inej Ghafa, Jesper Fahey, Wylan Van Eck, Nina Zenik, and Matthias Helvar. Each comes with their own baggage and reasons for agreeing to what should be their death sentence. Throughout their treacherous journey, the crew forges a truly powerful bond that transcends their backgrounds and former allegiances.

Six of Crows is one of the most moving portrayals of found family in a fantasy novel that I have
ever read, and it speaks beautifully to the power of platonic love. While there are multiple
charming romantic relationships that form over the course of Bardugo’s series, the core of the
narrative lies in the relationship between the rag-tag group of six felons tasked with
accomplishing what seems to be an impossible heist. Led by the mysterious and brutal Kaz
Brekker, these teenagers experience love, loss, pain, and numerous near-death experiences
together, the likes of which unite them in an unbreakable bond of friendship and support.
Bardugo’s striking and diverse characters make this story, and the relationships it highlights,
even more vivid and compelling. Each of the Crows bring their own unique voice, personality,
and background to the story, and their differences make the love they share all the more moving.

3. Ronan and Adam, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

“His feelings for Adam were an oil spill; he’d let them overflow and now there wasn’t a damn place in the ocean that wouldn’t catch fire if he dropped a match.

The Raven Cycle series follows teenagers Blue, Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Ronan as they navigate the mysterious ley lines that exist under their fictional town of Henrietta, Virginia. When Blue, who belongs to a family of clairvoyants, sees Gansey on a path meant for the dead,
it sets in motion a sequence of events that will alter the course of all these character’s lives. Throughout the series, each character faces their own battles (both internal and external), all the while showing deep care for one another. Each relationship featured in these novels paints a unique and nuanced portrait of love, but the relationship between Adam and Ronan stands out.

A narrative full of mystery, paranormal activity, mythology and magic, The Raven Cycle series
also beautifully examines young love and heartbreak. The romance that develops between Adam Parrish and Ronan Lynch is achingly beautiful. The two boys endure so much over the course of the series and go through a lot of their pain alone, so to see them finally brought together is incredibly moving. The way Stiefvater describes this love also sets it apart for me. Quotes like “Adam lived in an apartment located above the office of St. Agnes Catholic Church, a fortuitous combination that focused most of the objects of Ronan’s worship into one downtown block” and “The choice was death or hurting Adam, which wasn’t much of a choice at all” set the tone for a romance that is as moving as it is complex. Internalized feelings and insecurities, combined with paranormal external conflicts, at times threaten their relationship, but the bond between Adam and Ronan is tried in fire and as such remains incredibly hard to break.

4. Wes and Liz, Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter

“My inheritance was the knowledge that love is always in the air, always a possibility, and always worth it.”

Hopeless romantic Liz Buxbaum is given a second chance at the romance of her dreams when her longtime crush Michael moves back to town, and she is determined to take advantage of the renewed opportunity. So determined, in fact, that she enlists the help of her annoying neighbor (and part-time nemesis) Wes Bennett, who is friends with Michael. As Wes and Liz plot ways for Liz to win over Michael, Liz discovers she actually enjoys spending time with Wes, and when their bond continues to strengthen, Liz must question the very ideas of love that have defined her life thus far.

Wes and Liz’s romance is heartwarming and wholesome, with just the right amount of banter
and chemistry. The two challenge each other in the best way, and it’s clear that they are
incredibly compatible, even when they are antagonizing each other. Wes grounds Liz while Liz
brings Wes an air of optimism and romanticism that is as admirable as it is occasionally
delusional. As if the book needed any more charm, each chapter starts with a quote from a
beloved romantic comedy that sets the tone for the narrative unfolding. The inclusion of these
tidbits also offered a sense of warm nostalgia to the storyline that anyone who grew up watching
these movies is sure to love.

5. The Andersson Family, Beartown by Fredrik Backman

“The love a parent feels for a child is strange. There is a starting point to our love for everyone else, but not this person. This one we have always loved, we loved them before they even existed.”

Beartown tells the story of a small town that revolves almost entirely around the sport of hockey. So much so that, when news of a violent incident involving the local team’s hockey prodigy gets out, the town faces a massive reckoning. Kevin Erdahl, Beartown’s junior hockey team’s star, rapes Maya Andersson, the daughter of the team’s general manager. When she brings forth this accusation against him, and Kevin’s suspension leads to the team losing a huge match, many
people in the town turn against Maya and her family. The Anderssons, left reeling from the consequences of this violent act, face the town’s anger and hostility as a united front, with Maya’s mother and father prepared to protect their daughter at any cost.

Backman’s prose, in this novel and others, is hauntingly beautiful, and gets right to the core of
what it means to be a flawed human being. The way he paints the love a parent feels for a child,
and vice versa, in Beartown, is at times both poetic and devastating. The trials the Andersson
family is put through over the course of this book reinforce the clear love and dedication they
feel to one another. Peter and Kira Andersson will go to the ends of the earth to protect Maya
from the fallout of Kevin’s crime; they are ready to drop everything they’ve worked for in
Beartown in order to give her a better life. Even Maya’s younger brother, Leo, expresses his love
and support for Maya in any way he can, despite facing consequences of his own from members
of the community. This novel wonderfully portrays the strength found in family even in times of

6. Percy and Annabeth, Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

“He didn’t think much of fates and prophecies, but he did believe in one thing: Annabeth and he were supposed to be together.”

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series follows Percy Jackson, the son of the sea god Poseidon, and a host of other demigods and mythical characters as they navigate a world filled with vengeful gods and terrifying monsters. Percy and his friends must face a variety of trials and tasks in their quest to prevent the titan Kronos from regaining power and destroying the world as they know it. Amidst this backdrop of adventure and conflict, Percy and the diverse crew of demigods united in this fight develop powerful relationships that are tested every step of
the way. The relationship between Percy and Annabeth (at different times both platonic and romantic) lies at the heart of the series, transcending distance and conflict to present a compelling portrait of young love.

As my first introduction to the concept of a slow-burn, it’s not too dramatic to say that the
“Percabeth” storyline in Percy Jackson and the Olympians defined my romantic expectations for
nearly all of my middle school career. The romantic bond forged between Percy and Annabeth
by the end of Riordan’s series is made stronger by the fact that they developed an important
friendship first, and I am appreciative that readers got to see their platonic love grow before their
romantic love emerged. Their banter, protectiveness of each other, and complementary
personalities form the secure foundation of their lovely romance that readers can’t help but root

Sam Parker, Pine Reads Review Writer