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So You Want to Read Rom-Coms

So You Want to Read Rom-Coms
So You Want to Read Rom-Coms By Nayeli Cardozo
By Angelina X. Ng, Crimson Staff Writer

Rom-coms have exploded as a genre in recent years, especially with the rise of BookTok and Bookstagram. And yet, it is often seen as a frivolous, unserious genre. Perhaps this is sometimes for good reason; some rom-com books have underdeveloped plots and characters that make for an unsatisfying read, but that doesn’t mean that the genre should be written off entirely; many rom-com works have compelling characters, well executed plots, and are a perfect form of escapism from the reader’s exhausting day of work or studying.

This non-exhaustive list covers four specific and important categories of the genre: contemporary rom-coms, which are set in the present-day and grapple with real-world issues; historical or fantasy rom-coms, set in either a different time period or a fantastical world for those who want to truly break free from reality; young adult rom-coms that feature teen protagonists and are often just as well-written as adult rom-coms; and finally books that don’t fall perfectly into the rom-com genre, but have romantic subplots and fantastic writing.

Contemporary Rom-Coms

“You Deserve Each Other” by Sarah Hogle

Nicholas and Naomi are fiances locked in a game of chicken. They can’t stand each other, but whoever breaks off the engagement has to foot the substantial, non-refundable wedding bill. The story that follows is a series of hilarious pranks, sabotage, and emotional warfare. However, as they try to wrangle their way out of the relationship, they find themselves having fun with each other for the first time since they got engaged. Set in a small town, Hogle has written a laugh-out-loud funny story that comes packed with emotional moments and incredibly relatable characters. Though flawed, the characters remain lovable and endearing.

“The Worst Best Man” by Mia Sosa

Carolina Santos, a wedding planner, understands the irony of being left at the altar. So when she’s given a career-changing opportunity that would take her business to a whole new level, she immediately agrees, even though she has to work with her ex-fiance’s brother, creating the perfect premise for the enemies-to-lovers novel. A graduate of Yale Law School before becoming a romance writer, Sosa’s characters are witty and quick with their banter, and the chemistry between the two protagonists is palpable and well-paced.

“Nora Goes Off Script” by Annabel Monaghan

Nora is a romance movie writer, churning out Hallmark movie scripts for a living. But when Nora’s husband leaves her and her two kids, she turns her heartbreak and anger into her work, writing a script about her life that, to her surprise, gets picked up by Hollywood. When part of the filming takes place in her home, she meets the lead of the movie and former Hollywood heartthrob, Leo. Monaghan writes a compelling, lush story that is honest in its depiction of love and loss, which investigates how relationships fall apart and are formed. Ultimately, the book shows readers how to define oneself outside of a relationship — a refreshing and needed message in the context of the rom-com genre — but also how to find joy in the friendships and romances that may come along.

Historical and Fantasy Rom-Coms

“These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong

Set in 1920s Shanghai, “These Violent Delights” is a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” and a book heavily promoted through BookTok. Roma and Juliette are the heirs of the Montagov and Cai rival gangs in Shanghai, but as whispers of a contagion begin to circle around the city, the two have to set aside their rivalries and work together. The first of a duology, “These Violent Delights” is action-packed as Gong balances both hilarious characters and high stakes.

“A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting” by Sophie Irwin

Kitty Talbot is the eldest in her family, and to save them from ruin, she has to find a man — but more importantly, a fortune. Set in Regency England, Kitty is delightfully bull-headed and obstinate, making her an oddly lovable and endearing character as she goes head-to-head with Lord Radcliffe, the only person who sees Kitty for the mercenary fortune hunter that she really is. Of the many historical rom-coms available on the market, Irwin’s is a great way to get into the genre.

“Well Met” by Jen DeLuca

Technically, this book is set in the small town of Willow Creek, Md., and the majority of the plot takes place in the town’s Renaissance Faire. Emily, a newcomer, gets roped into participating in the town’s renaissance fair. Even as she crosses swords with the organizer, Simon, in real life, they become different people within the fair, flirting and sparring with each other. Is it all an act, or something more? DeLuca perfectly balances the modern-day, small-town narrative with the romance and antiquity of a renaissance fair, making for a light, enjoyable read.

Young Adult Rom-Coms

“Red White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuinston

Another BookTok favorite that’s recently become a movie, “Red, White and Royal Blue” follows First Son, Alex Claremont-Diaz, and Prince Henry as they navigate their relationship and the expectations of their families. Of course, they fall in love, and wrestle with how to be with each other even as political tensions run high. An entertaining and heartwarming rom-com that explores sexuality, coming out, and what it means to rewrite history, there’s a reason that it’s gone viral on social media.

“The Unexpected Everything” by Morgan Matson

Matson is a master at writing lighthearted, hilarious rom-coms, and this one ranks among her very best. Andie is a politician’s daughter with everything planned out, until a scandal upends her plans before college. Filled with a cast of characters with fantastic banter, Matson perfectly captures what it is like to spend one last summer at home before everything changes, and how exciting embracing the unexpected can be. For readers who enjoy Emily Henry, the work of Matson won’t disappoint.

“Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros

For people who loved “Harry Potter” and “How to Train Your Dragon” as kids, this book may just be the perfect read. Yarros sets up the novel in Navarre, a fantastical world where teenagers are conscripted into the cutthroat Basgiath War College, risking life and limb to become dragon riders. “Fourth Wing” has phenomenal exposition and hilarious banter between characters. Coupled with an action-packed plot and well-paced tension and suspense, this book is an exciting read with rich world-building that makes the reader wish they were in Navarre.

Genre-Bending Rom-Coms

“Beach Read” by Emily Henry

Emily Henry recently wrote a fantastic article in Time Magazine about writing the rom-com, and how it isn’t just a way to get to a happy ending, but also to process the very human emotions of grief, love, and loss. All of her books could easily have made it on this list, but “Beach Read” is particularly brilliant in the way it addresses the issue of grief, as well as the very real problem of how the genre of women’s fiction is often unfairly perceived as frivolous and unserious. In “Beach Read”, January is a romance writer, while her literary nemesis Gus pens ponderous literary fiction. When they both find themselves facing writer’s block, they make a deal to write a book in their counterpart’s genre. Henry weaves a compelling narrative that is held together with the fantastic chemistry between January and Gus, complete with enchanting and heart-wrenching moments as their relationship blossoms. Perhaps the most striking aspect of “Beach Read” is how Henry breathes life into the fictional small town setting of North Bear Shores, exploring the interactions of the protagonists with the eccentric charm and quirks that characterizes their setting.

“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus

Set in early 1950s America, “Lessons in Chemistry” follows Elizabeth Zott, a talented chemist and mother who finds herself the inadvertent star of America’s most-watched cooking show. Told in a unique style of non-chronological vignettes, this book grapples with sexism within STEM fields that women continue to face. Despite the serious themes that this book tackles, Garmus still finds a way to make this book uplifting and hopeful. The relationship between Elizabeth and Calvin is heartfelt and adorable, making it one that readers will root for. Each character is beautifully drawn out and the book builds on each vignette and perspective in a way that satisfyingly comes together at the end. For those who want more after reading the book, “Lessons in Chemistry” has also been recently adapted into a television show as well.

“Romantic Comedy” by Curtis Sittenfeld

The book follows Sally Milz, a sketch writer for “The Night Owls,” a fictional late-night comedy show that pays obvious homage to Saturday Night Live. Inspired by a colleague who is dating the glamorous actress that previously guest-hosted the show, Sally writes a sketch about the phenomenon of talented, average-looking men dating beautiful, overachieving women who are out of their league, while the reverse never seems to be true. Perhaps that’s why Sally is unconvinced that Noah Brewster, pop music sensation and imminent guest host and musical guest will ever be attracted to her. Sittenfeld uses an intriguing exposition to investigate gender dynamics and current pop culture in this charismatic novel, exploring how the dynamics of love in the current day.

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Who better than Jane Austen to round out this list? A timeless classic that just about everyone knows, Elizabeth and Darcy are the archetypes of the modern-day enemies-to-lovers trope. Written and set in Regency England, Austen masters the comedy of manners to create witty banter and sharp observations about English society. For readers who want to delve into classics but still seek an entertaining read, “Pride and Prejudice” is a perfect choice.

—Staff writer Angelina X. Ng can be reached at angelina.ng@thecrimson.com.

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