Love is a many-splendored thing. And first love, in particular, is splendidly awkward, uniquely devastating and often poorly timed. Whether it hits at age 16 or 60, and whether it ends in heartbreak or happily ever after, we only get one first love to live. Luckily, there are many, many first love stories to read! And I don’t think it matters whether you’re happily married, happily single or entrenched in the frog-kissing process — there’s nothing like escaping into a good first love story.
In “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang, the highly successful Stella struggles to find a fulfilling relationship, due to her absorption in her work as an econometrician and to having Asperger’s syndrome. To improve her skills in the romance department, Stella decides that practice makes perfect. She creates a curriculum and enlists the help of an expert — an escort named Michael. Over the course of Stella’s training, the two fall in love, but their guarded natures and poor communication threaten to leave them both heartbroken and alone.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” by Nicola Yoon, proves that Cupid has no regard for anyone’s convenience. Daniel and Natasha meet one morning in New York City and fall in love over the course of one day. Daniel knows fate when he sees it, but Natasha needs convincing. The two are under a serious time crunch, however, as Natasha and her family are set to be deported back to Jamaica the next day.
The inspiration for the award-winning movie “Call Me by Your Name,” is an introspective, heartbreaking novel of the same title by André Aciman. It bursts with eloquence and intensity. During a halcyon summer along the Italian Riviera, Elio falls in love with the older Oliver, his father’s research assistant. Between their age gap and the stigma surrounding homosexuality in the 1980s, their romance seems doomed from the start. In the borrowed time they have together, they develop an intense intimacy despite the looming deadline of Oliver’s return to the States. “We had found the stars, you and I,” says Elio of their idyllic summer, “And this is given once only.”
The colorful graphic novel, “Bingo Love” by Tee Franklin, offers a bittersweet look at first love for a same-sex couple. Thirteen-year-olds Hazel and Mari meet at church bingo in 1963 and fall in love. When Mari’s family finds out, they take her away. Hazel and Mari both marry men and have children, but 50 years later they meet again at church bingo, and their connection is instantly rekindled. Though they run up against familial expectations again, Hazel and Mari have learned the hard way to not let someone else determine who you should love.
The best-laid plans of well-intentioned parents often go awry, as is the case in “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon. Dimple and Rishi’s parents intend to arrange a marriage between them. Rishi is all for an arranged marriage, but Dimple would prefer pursuing her education and career over the expectations of her traditional Indian parents. Their first meeting results in Dimple throwing iced coffee at Rishi. Things can only go up from there, right?
Young adult fiction naturally has a large share of the market on stories of first love, and John Green has penned one of the most beloved in “The Fault in Our Stars.” Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old with a terminal cancer diagnosis, falls in love with Augustus Waters, who she meets at a cancer support group. Despite their finite time together, the two find infinite meaning in their relationship, which seems simultaneously star-crossed and star-cursed. The title is inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Gus and Hazel’s ill-fated romance suggests that sometimes the fault is actually in our stars.
Love can spring up in the strangest of places, and there is no place stranger than Night Vale, a delightful desert dystopia that doesn’t know it’s a dystopia, where time is weird and outsiders are regarded with wary eyes. Joseph Fink’s “It Devours!” takes place in this offbeat little burg. Mysterious rumblings in the desert threaten to destroy Night Vale. Nilanjana Sikdar, a scientist and newcomer, joins Darryl, a committed and evangelical member of The Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God to discover the cause. Despite their clashes over the respective merits of science and religion, the two fall in love amidst their struggle to save their beloved, if bizarre, town.