The first love language I discovered was language itself. The idea that one could create love by writing about it, that the very effort of trying to articulate the emotion is an act of love, strangely composes me. I am a writer, but I am a reader first. I consume a lot more than I produce, and literature taught me more about love than life did. From Elizabeth Bennet's declaration of love to Jo March's quest for self-discovery - women have shaped the narrative of romance in my head. In a strange turn of catharsis - I have been validated by books, and I have healed through fictional heartbreaks. Language is a shared consciousness, and how lovely it is that people use it to tell stories of love in faraway galaxies, small Parisian coffee shops, Royal palaces, and DIY gift shops. It takes courage to believe in love and write healthy, non-problematic romances. The following five recommendations are stories that I have sincerely loved and these stories have loved me back in return. I hope you find something in this list that calls to you too.
Red, White, and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston
Alex snatches a shirt and boxers at random from the floor, shoves them at Henry's chest, and points him towards the closet. "Get in there."
"Quite," he observes.
"Yes, we can unpack the ironic symbolism later. GO.”
After the 2016 travesty of Donald J Trump becoming President of the United States, Casey McQuiston decided to write an alternative reality, where a woman is the sitting President in the White House, and the biracial First Son of the United States falls in love with the heir apparent of Buckingham Palace. Alex and Henry are two young boys discovering their sexuality, the idea of love, their place in history and the world, taking us along that beautiful ride. The author subtly weaves the homophobic history of both Britain and America and how that affects our idea of queerness into the story - Henry's passion for the gay history of his country paired with his anxiety of leaving the closet and Alex's constant oscillations between what is personal and political - shape a narrative of queerness that's refreshing and necessary. McQuiston preserves the yearning and angst of a young adult romance even as she layers her characters with complexities and nuances. This is an emotional story, but it is not a story of queer fatalism. There is an honest joy to be found in this novel, and it has this vitality that will have you believing in the world, yourself, and love again.
This is How You Lose The Time War, Max Gladstone, Amal El-Mohtar
“I love you. I love you. I love you. I'll write it in waves. In skies. In my heart. You'll never see, but you will know. I'll be all the poets, I'll kill them all and take each one's place in turn, and every time love's written in all the strands it will be to you.”
This is How You Lose The Time War is a heartbreaking, lyrical, and whimsical story of two rival agents who work to change the course of time to fit their own agency's needs. In the process of competing, they write long letters in different timelines to each other that morph from gloating flirtation to hopeless romance. Red and Blue (yes, there's a theme here) were built to fight each other, kill each other. And yet, at the end of the day, they are just two women who fall in love. The writers of the novel craft a kind of love that flows through the pages, flows through time and envelops the reader in this explosive, galactic, beautiful romance. Red and Blue speak of loneliness, the need to belong somewhere, and the paradoxical urge to strip away all the constructs that hold us back. Red and Blue are meant to destroy each other - but how does one destroy their own salvation?
How to Fail at Flirting, Denise Williams
“I’d convinced myself it wasn’t abuse. I was educated, and I thought I knew better, so what was happening was something else. I’d thought it would get better, and when it didn’t, it was too late. I’d started to believe his lies, that I needed him. By the time I stopped believing the lies, I believed the threats.”
Don't let the quote misguide you - How to Fail at Flirting is not just a story of abuse and gaslighting. It is also a story of healing. A friend of mine once sent me an article that explained how the relationship after the abusive relationship is the most difficult to maintain. Naya has lived through hell, condescension, humiliation, and fear in her past relationship. Closed off and constantly on guard, she has little patience or faith in romantic relationships. But when her close friends push her to go to a bar just to find some happiness, some casual flirtation, she realizes that she is bad at flirting. The story, unlike many other romantic novels, is told solely through Naya's perspective, which I appreciated because I could stand witness to her mistakes and her redemption. This is an adorable, extremely cute romance that will put a smile on your face and give you the strength to fight for what you want.
Honey Girl, Morgan Rogers
“But Grace will also hold on to this good thing, her good thing, for just a while longer. She has earned the right for something to be easy. She has earned the right to hold on to this place, this peace, this girl, this red-bricked home.”
I've told around 4 of my friends that if they are only going to read one book, it should be Honey Girl. I'll come clean - after years and years of queer fatalism in popular media, I'm starved for sapphic romances that have a happy ending. Honey Girl, however, is not just a romance. It is a quiet meditation on race, queerness, and our desperate need to belong somewhere, to someone. Grace Porter learned to run, outsmart everyone around her, work harder, be better than everyone else. She can polish her Blackness, disguise her queerness, and block out her fraying mental health. She works relentlessly for her Ph.D. but nobody wants to hire her. Her military father has trained her to believe that Porters are unbreakable. But Grace is breaking, crushed beneath the weight of her loneliness and her failures. Until she falls in love with Yuki, the pretty girl she drunkenly gets married to in an LA Church. Grace has a wife now, but love cannot cure everything. Honey Girl is a story of Grace discovering her place in the world, in the stars, learning to love herself, give love, and receive it too. Further, this novel features some of the best friendships I've ever read. Morgan Rogers stole my breath away with her lyrical prose and her faith in the beauty of the world.
Eleven ways to Love, A set of essays
“Love is a many-splendored thing…”
I found this set of essays at a book sale, a stroke of pure luck. With a foreword by Gulzar, this book will open your eyes to the shades of love that we gloss over in our stories. The essays explore casteism, queerness, disability, gender fluidity, online dating, body positivity, race, and how love brings us together or breaks us apart. The human condition strives for love, even when our bodies give up, our minds lose themselves, we strive for love. It is a part of who we are, what defines us. But for too long, people of so many communities have found that love was defined for them, and they either find it through these restricted channels, or they don't find it all. We have been taught to hate ourselves to find love with others. We have been made desperate by what is constantly denied to us. These are essays that break those boundaries or at least push them. This is an important and glorious read, and compulsory for everyone who is trying to make sense of their place and their form of loving in this world.
Happy Reading :)