Ah, love: one of the plethora of emotions we feel on a daily basis in some way or another, whether it’s for ourselves, our families, our friends, our pets, our Reese’s cups stash, or that special person in our lives.
And while a good love story is nothing new, it’s one of the things that draws us to some of our favorite books – especially when the writing is so believable we find ourselves turning page after page because we’re reminded of how being in love truly feels. It’s not all happiness and bunnies; in fact, sometimes being in love can really suck, and open us to a world of problems that didn’t exist before we fell into it.
But usually, it’s worth the struggle. And the following are some of my favorite examples of books whose pages convey exactly what it’s like to be in love…both the good and the bad.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
This list wouldn’t be complete without Nicholas Sparks’ most popular work to date. In The Notebook, Allie and Noah don’t start off by being friends or even more than barely acquaintances – they feel a magnetic pull that they can’t explain that carries them through time. They aren’t immune to fights (far from it, as they actually fight a lot because they’re so different) and they refuse to change themselves for the other person, choosing to pursue their love through life’s challenges instead of letting them derail something they know deep down is meant to be. True love tends to always find a way.
The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi
Lauren Gibaldi’s debut YA novel The Night We Said Yes covers two time periods, both narrated by the 18-year-old protagonist, Ella: a “Then” period – which takes place about a year before the present when Ella first meets Matt and they begin to fall in love, complete with a night of saying yes to every idea they had – and a “Now” period, where Matt returns after leaving without explanation for months and they attempt to recreate that night of adventure to figure out if what they once had is still there.
TNWSY hits the nail on the head when it comes to the feelings we all have as almost-adults as we fall in real love for the first time and try to sort through what’s worth carrying with us into the future and what’s better left behind. It makes us remember what falling in love as a teenager really felt like – for some of us, years and years after those feelings have left. For the resurgence of feelings of teenage heartbreak and adventure alone, TNWSY (and its companion novella, Matt’s Story) are worth a read.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I may be a little biased by including this novel in my list because it’s my favorite, but it’s a valid work to point out even if it’s actually sort of an anti-love story. This novel deals so deeply with how our minds work when they become obsessed – especially with another human being. It delves into the inner workings of the consequences that can arise from being completely wrapped up in another person to the point where the line between infatuation and love is so blurred that these two emotions are impossible to distinguish between…and can lead to extremely unfortunate situations.
Word to the wise: This novel is a slow burn and hits you when you least expect it to, so be wary if you get spooked easily. The Picture of Dorian Gray explains how love and lust really feel as opposed to how they look from the outside, as well as our complete willingness to look past someone’s shortcomings until it’s too late – the dark side to becoming too invested in something, or someone, you can’t control.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
I call HBP “the romantic comedy of the Harry Potter series.” It’s one of my favorites, though, because it deals with teenage romance right in the middle of a wizarding war and I think J.K. Rowling’s ability to create very adult themes while still toeing this part of the YA line is admirable. From the Ginny-spawned monster in Harry’s chest to the scenes where Hermione smells Ron’s hair in her Amortentia (love potion) and later sends canaries at Ron after catching him making out with Lavender Brown, HBP further drives home the point that feeling in love drowns out pretty much everything else, including dark lords.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The quintessential classic playground-romance love story between two people whose bickering turns into deep romantic feelings, Pride and Prejudice is the type of story many modern ones aspire to be. All the greatest love stories, in my opinion, come more from two people who gradually fall in love as opposed to being in love at first sight – and it’s even more fun when those two people kinda sorta dislike each other at the beginning. But alas, true love always finds a way to peek its head out from underneath the ashes of an acquaintanceship gone sour, especially if the sourness was covering for something else.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park is Rowell’s debut YA novel and follows the story of two teenagers – you guessed it, Eleanor and Park – as they form an unexpected bond and figure out how to navigate the challenging paths of their lives while being able to experience those lives together. E&P is another book where the two lovers don’t have that love-at-first-sight moment, but instead grow to care for one another to the point where there’s no turning back without dire emotional consequence. It also heartbreakingly touches on just how difficult it can be to manage familial dysfunction when all you want to do is feel truly, deeply, and completely appreciated by another person who loves you exactly for who you are.
Confidence: The Diary of an Invisible Girl by Paige Lavoie
Another debut YA novel on this list, Paige Lavoie’s Confidence tells the story of teenager Barbara who struggles with finding her own identity and voice while questioning what she really wants not only out of herself, but a partner. She begins by obsessing over her “Dreamboat” who works in the comic shop, but eventually figures out that pushing the walls of her comfort zone to let in people who want to know the real you is the only way to find the person who deserves your time and effort – and that person will come along when you least expect it (but preferably not wearing a superhero cape to a coffee shop).
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Hear me out, hear me out. I mean…love can make us do some crazy things. In the case of Amy Dunne, these things maybe (OK, definitely) went a little far. But being in love starts out so exciting and all-encompassing, and Gone Girl – especially the chapters with Amy’s early diary entries – does an amazing job of chronicling in its pages how that honeymoon phase can play out in a really awful way if we aren’t careful and don’t nurture our relationships in the way they need to be nurtured. But keep in mind that before infidelity, lying, unexplained disappearance, and murder happens is probably a good place to start said nurturing.
(Image via Focus Features)