Whew, Valentine’s Day is finally over. As much as I love love, I’m definitely relieved to see the kitschy pink hearts and saccharine sweet romantic sayings return to hell for another year. Okay, maybe that’s a tad dramatic. But I think we can all agree that the best part of the commercialization of Valentine’s Day is the clearance candy, right? You can absolutely find me browsing the candy sale bins on February 15 each year. If you could also use a break from seeing nothing but cartoon cupids at every turn, you’ve come to the right place! Take the quiz below for an imaginary trip down the clearance candy aisle and we’ll tell you what romance-free book is calling your name. We’ve got fantasy, mystery, horror, literary fiction, and more, all ready to take you on a gripping journey without any ooey-gooey love-filled side quests.
And before anybody starts tracking down my social media to tell me how cold-hearted I am about their favorite pink and red holiday, let it be known that I’m no Valentine’s Grinch. I love romance novels and cry at the end of The Notebook like everybody else. I even celebrate Valentine’s Day each year by making a cheesecake for my wife. There are plenty of ways to be sweet and thoughtful without spending tons of money, which is precisely what capitalism wants you to think love is all about. I think finding your own special tradition is the best way to spend February 14, and it’s even better if it’s something a little weird. Save the fancy chocolates for when it goes on sale. I promise, it tastes just as good.
Romance-Free Book Quiz
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
This YA novel in verse is a delightful and fabulous coming-of-age story. The protagonist is a mixed-race queer teen trying to find his place in the world. When he discovers a talent and passion for performing in drag, he learns to embrace and celebrate his uniqueness. It’s a drag queen origin story that’s beautiful, sharp, bold, and utterly original — no romance plot line needed.
Cackle by Rachel Harrison
This romance-free book is about finding yourself after the end of a relationship. After an unexpected breakup, Annie moves to a small town in upstate New York in search of a new life. She quickly falls in love with the new town — and with a charming new friend, Sophie. Sophie takes Annie under her wing and helps her find a fresh start. But Annie soon notices that everyone in town seems a bit afraid of Sophie. Could it be she’s more powerful than she seems?
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
There’s little time for romance when you’re saving a massive city from destruction. Every city has a soul, and when a great evil threatens the city, that soul becomes personified in order to protect its home. But there’s something special about New York. When that great evil threatens the city that never sleeps, it becomes personified by five people, representing each borough. Can they come together to save the city they love?
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
What’s the opposite of a romance novel? Why, a terrifying horror novel, of course! Jade is obsessed with slasher films, and especially with the role of the “final girl.” When a few mysterious deaths occur in Jade’s small Idaho town, she’s certain they’re in for a real-life slasher. And when a new girl who perfectly fits the final girl archetype moves to town, Jade is the only person who knows what bloody danger awaits.
My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa
Psychological thrillers are the antithesis of Valentine’s Day, right? Paloma thought life would be easy when she was adopted from her Sri Lankan orphanage by a wealthy American couple. And for many years, it was — until she turned 30 and her parents cut her off from their funds. When her new roommate Arun discovers her darkest secret and ends up unconscious in a pool of blood, Paloma isn’t sure if her secret is safe or more dangerous than ever before.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
In modern-day Miami, Jeanette is a daughter of Cuban immigrants and is struggling with drug addiction. When her neighbor Gloria is detained by ICE, Jeanette takes in Gloria’s daughter and is forced to reckon with her own family trauma. The story then travels back through five generations of mothers and daughters, each burdened by the difficult choices of motherhood and family legacy.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo
Growing up, Anna’s white mother told her very little about her African father. It isn’t until Anna is in her 40s, separated from her husband and wondering what comes next, that Anna’s mother dies and Anna finally finds an old diary that leads her to her father. It turns out her father went on to become the leader of an African nation and made some questionable decisions. Determined to learn more about her father and herself, Anna decides to travel to her father’s country and meet the man who doesn’t even know she exists.
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel recounts her life through six decades of fitness fads. It’s a fun and engaging way to approach her life story, but even more, Bechdel explores how various exercise methods served as a way for her to explore her mind-body connection and her place in the universe. It’s a wonderful balance of humor, history, and philosophical musings.
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