Some people believe that Valentine’s Day is a holiday of love. Those people are wrong.
Valentine’s Day is actually dedicated to poorly-written and uninformed hot takes on the romance genre, a fact proven year after year when otherwise respectable publications allow reductionist, often misogynistic ramblings to grace their platforms. I would like to take a moment to remind the editors of said publications that ‘hot’ does not necessarily equal ‘worthwhile’. Horse leavings tend to steam, but I wouldn’t recommend smearing them across your desk.
In 2019, it is deeply fashionable to be ‘woke’ but rather distasteful to attempt meaningful action. Performing supposedly conscientious behaviour (such as calling romance novels antifeminist) is the Internet’s favourite form of virtue signalling. Actually disrupting an oppressive status quo, however, tends to land marginalised people in a world of trouble.
Because of this disconnect, I frequently fantasise about apocalypses, revolutions, and other dramatic, YA-worthy events hitting ‘reset’ on society. In these fantasies, I am extremely strong and have impressive survivalist skills which allow me to triumph when society collapses. Also, my skin looks extra shiny and I never run out of Fenty Gloss Bomb.
But until the highly improbable, Fenty-branded revolution comes, we all do what we can. And for so many romance authors, ‘what we can’ is an impressive amount.
Contrary to popular (or rather, loudest) opinion, romance has been putting in work. It’s a wildly profitable genre dominated by marginalised people choosing how to express their desires—so it’s no surprise that, in 2019, romance is a leading light when it comes to diverse and meaningful representation in literature. That’s not enough to make it unequivocally radical (nothing completely escapes the poison of society’s ingrained prejudices) but it’s a fact that matters.
And today, rather than whining about “omg 80s bodice-rippers!!1!”, I want to celebrate the romance novels that are radical; the ones doing their bit to help effect change. Time to spread a little (respectful and consensual) love…
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
Why it’s Rad
Ms. Jenkins is a trailblazer in every meaning of the word, and if you don’t know, you better get to know. I could’ve put any of her books on this list, but Forbidden is the first in my favourite of her series, so here we are. We’ve got a white-passing hero, a black heroine who is honestly tougher than steel (without those harmful ‘strong black woman’ stereotypes that make us seem like an alien species made to be abused) and a fascinating question. Can the benefits of ‘passing’ in order to help your people ever outweigh the personal cost?
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
Why it’s Rad
In this Peter Pan retelling, ‘Wendy’ is actually a transgender boy named Peter, and Neverland is his escape from a dangerously transphobic world. Yeah. Sit with that for a second. I’m tempted to gush about how incredibly, bone-deep beautiful this book is—I could close my eyes right now and see Neverland before me—but I’m supposed to keep this snappy, so… Peter falls for Hook, Hook isn’t exactly what he seems, and their very queer ending made my heart wobble. Oof.
Feels Like Summer by Six de los Reyes
Why it’s Rad
We have a prickly heroine who engages in casual sex, a realistic look at the struggles some wombles (that’s a person with a womb, not a furry, recycling fanatic) go through, and a hero who is actually helpful when period blood gets everywhere. Oh, and did I mention that period blood gets everywhere? Just like in real, nightmarish life? Hallelujah.
Thirsty by Mia Hopkins
Why it’s Rad
I have attempted to read a lot of books that deal with gangs and/or organised crime. I have DNF’d 99% of them, because this isn’t edgy trauma porn for me. But THIRSTY’s first-person, single-POV examination of an ex-con’s worries, choices, and struggle to start over is just fantastic. Sal is a wonderfully real and respectfully drawn character. He’s also a painfully perfect mix of sweet and sexy, and he adores his heroine, Vanessa, which all adds up to one of my favourite romance novels ever.
If I’d included every book that deserves to be on this list, I’d never finish writing any of my own. (There are too many rad romance novels to count, is what I’m saying here.) But, for the benefit of those who want to explore this wonderful genre, here’s a list of my favourite authors, excluding those mentioned above:
Keep clickin’ til you see something you like. Now, I don’t want to hear another uninformed, reductionist peep out of any of youse. Not! A! Peep!
Love and biscuits,