“Why would anyone want to read a book with no romance in it? Romance is AMAZING and gives you ALL THE FEELS. I can’t get invested in books without romance. If a woman says she doesn’t like romance in books, she’s just trying to prove she’s not like other girls”.
If you’re a (female) reader who craves books without romance, you’ve probably heard some variation of this. It’s a pain in the arse, but when people try to talk about the need for no-romance books, the response is often a rhapsody about the joys of romance in fiction.
Perhaps a little defensiveness is understandable. After all, romance novels are frequently dissed and dismissed. At best, they’re considered almost proper literature. At worst, they’re considered trashy and insubstantial. We trivialise romance so much that I’ve actually heard Jane Austen novels referred to as “chick lit” because they end with marriages.
But despite this undoubtedly sexist trivialisation of romance, it’s still the best-selling genre by far. It’s as pervasive as it is popular, with romantic storylines often featuring prominently in books of other genres. This can be an issue because believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t want to read kissing books.
There are many reasons for this. Firstly, can we please stop insisting that romantic love is a universal part of the human experience? It’s not. Many people (yours truly included) are aromantic – we don’t experience romantic attraction.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like romance in books – just ask Alice Oseman, the openly aromantic author of the Heartstopper graphic novels. But sometimes it means exactly that. Sometimes we’re icked out by romance, or we just can’t relate to it.
There are plenty of other reasons why a reader might be looking for a book without romance. Perhaps they’ve just gone through a horrible break-up and don’t want to read yet another book about how romantic love is the key to happiness. Perhaps they’re looking for a book for their teenage daughter and are drowning in a sea of YA novels about how important it is to have a boyfriend.
Probably the most common reason for wanting a romance-free book is just a craving for something different. Something where the plot isn’t overpowered by an unnecessary love triangle. Something where friendships or family relationships take centre stage. Something where characters are gazing out into the world together instead of into each other’s eyes.
So how do we find books with minimal romance? Here are my top tips:
Read books aimed at men
It pains me to say this, but when it comes to centring platonic relationships in fiction, dudes do it better. There’s no expectation for straight male writers targeting straight male readers to include romance in their books, and this frees them up to focus on other relationships. “Brothers in arms” type friendships and father-son relationships are particularly popular.
So grab a blokey book if you fancy a break from romance. Something with a sword on the cover. You might be pleasantly surprised at the emotional depth of the platonic relationships in these books.
Read middle grade
Although romance does make an occasional appearance in middle grade fiction, there tends to be much more focus on friendship. One of the loveliest things about MG is that it’s full of loving, uncomplicated, boy-girl friendships, which are rare as hens’ teeth in YA.
Look for clues…
OK, I realise my advice for finding romance-free books has been pretty depressing so far. I’m basically saying that if you’re female and over the age of 12, every book marketed at you will be chock full of romance.
But it’s actually a lot more nuanced than that, and figuring out the rules of romance in fiction can be fun. Here are some tips for figuring out which books are romance-heavy and which books are light on the kissing.
Clues in the genre: Outside of the romance genre, some genres are more likely to lean heavily on romantic storylines than others. For example, fantasy tends to have more romance than sci-fi. With historical fiction it gets really interesting, because apparently someone decided that certain time periods are romantic and others aren’t.
- Regency? Super romantic.
- Middle ages? Not romantic (too much plague).
- Vikings? Not romantic, but maybe a bit sexy.
- World War 1/2? Lots of tragic romance.
- Ancient Greece? Lots of gay romance.
Clues on the cover: If the front cover of a book aimed at adults shows two characters, this usually means they will do a romance at some point. But look carefully at the posing of the figures.
Characters looking at each other or standing back-to-back are almost certainly love interests, while characters both looking in the same direction (e.g. looking straight out of the cover) may have a platonic relationship.
Clues in the blurb: Sometimes a blurb will be explicit about a romantic storyline, and sometimes it will only hint at it. If a character’s appearance is mentioned, that character is probably a love interest. Also, if a female character moves to a small town and discovers purpose, friendship, and maybe more… the more is a dude and she hooks up with him.
If all else fails, Google is your friend. Type in “books with no romance” and you’ll get a bunch of recommendations, which might come as a relief to readers who feel like the odd one out for preferring fiction without romance. I’ll leave a couple of starting points for fiction categories that tend to be heavy on romantic storylines:
Happy reading! What is your favourite book with no (or just a little) romance?