A person carrying a stack of romance novels in front of a wisteria garden.
Illustration by Willow Gelphman.

I have a literary confession to make: I’m addicted to romance novels. 

It began in sixth grade when I first picked up “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer, then “New Moon,” then “Eclipse,” and finally the exhilarating conclusion “Breaking Dawn.” I read the series three more times after that. This ignited my love for romance novels that has followed me through high school and now college. 

I pick up a romance novel whenever I need a sense of predictability in my life, something I’ve lacked for the past year or so. 

Romance Writers of America, a nonprofit trade association that helps romance novelists get published, defines the genre as having two basic elements: a love story that is the focus of the plot, and an emotionally satisfying ending. As someone who never grew out of her love for fairy tales, I love knowing the story is going to end happily ever after. 

Despite it being one of the largest publishing genres, readers of romance are made to feel guilty for reading these books. The overall consensus is that romance novels are trashy, cliché, and poorly written. For a while, I bought into that shame. I’d shove these books deep into my bag and wouldn’t read them in public. I’d only pull them out in the comfort of my own bedroom. I was ashamed to read them because I was told they were frivolous and had no substance. 

That being said, I would rather read “Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating” by Christina Lauren again than pick up “For Whom The Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway. Just because someone says you’re supposed to read authors like Hemingway doesn’t mean you have to. 

At their core, most romance novels create feminist possibilities. The main characters get to choose who they fall in love with, who they want to have sex with, and what their domestic arrangements are going to look like. These characters, regardless of gender, sexuality, or race, can have stories that celebrate their identities in ways that are emotionally satisfying.

Romance writers are proficient in navigating consent. Well-written romance novels not only explore healthy relationships between two people, but also emphasize mutual pleasure when it comes to sex. 

The genre offers women a narrative on sex that doesn’t cater to the male gaze, as it’s written mostly by women, for women. As someone whose sex education was less than ideal, this was principle. Books like “The Trouble With Hating You” by Sajni Patel and “Take a Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert feature sexual relationships in which the woman’s pleasure comes first. 

It’s important that I see parts of myself in stories. As an Indian American teen with crushes on lots of boys, I was used to hearing things like: “Oh, he would totally date you if you weren’t Indian.” 

It was in these moments that I turned to romance paperbacks with main characters like me. I resonated with these women who struggled with balancing growing up in two different worlds and not losing their sense of self. I was able to read about these women confidently falling in love and making it work. It equipped me with enough confidence to deal with similar conflicts in my own life. 

I understand that romance itself is a daunting genre. For a long time, I didn’t want to be caught dead with one of those books (and especially those covers) either. Apart from the adorable romances I couldn’t get enough of, it was seeing different parts of myself in this genre that made me understand its merit. As a beginner, it’s hard to navigate this genre, so I’ve compiled a list of romances that are easy to start with and don’t have abhorrent covers. 

A Beginners Guide to Romance 
Contemporary Romance: 
• “The Trouble with Hating You” by Sajni Patel 
• “Kulti” by Mariana Zapata  
• “Rent a Boyfriend” by Gloria Chao
• “You Deserve Each Other” by Sarah Hogle 
• “Take a Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert
• “The Hating Game” by Sally Thorne
Historical Romance 
• “The Duke Heist” by Erica Ridley 
• “A Prince on Paper” by Alyssa Cole 
• “Temptations of a Wallflower” by Eva Leigh