There’s a good reason we all love tales of first love – it’s because we’ve all been there. Reading stories of first love churns up so many nostalgic emotions, taking us right back to those heady, dramatic, angst-fuelled teenage days, full of feelings unknown before now – love, confusion, excitement, fear – as if you finally understand what all those musicians have been singing about all this time.
One book that absolutely nails this on the head is Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and if you haven’t read it by now, quite frankly where have you been? Now also a hugely popular BBC Three series, (which, by the way, perfectly captures the essence of Rooney’s book) the tale follows Marianne and Connell from the end of their high school days in their small-town Irish upbringing right through university. It perfectly encapsulates that push and pull of a classic will-they-won’t-they romance, with all the added intensity and high-strung emotions of first love.
Once you’ve finished the book and devoured the series, there will quite likely be a Normal People-sized void in your life. To feed that itch, we’ve rounded up some of the best tales of first love.
11 books about first love to read if you loved Normal People
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Set in 1986 over the course of one school year, Eleanor is the new girl in town and a bit of a misfit, always sticking out in a crowd, whereas Park is quiet, careful and likes to fly under the radar. As they get to know each other through a stream of late-night conversations and self-made mix tapes, they slowly and steadily fall in love – the way you do when you’re 16 and have nothing and everything to lose.
Review: ‘Reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love, but what it’s like to be young and in love with a book’ – John Green.
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Also recently transformed into a breathtaking BBC series, Noughts & Crosses may be set in an alternate reality, but the tale of forbidden love can transcend universes. It’s got star-crossed lovers and themes of class divide and teenage angst, just like Normal People, making this a sure-fire winner with any Rooney fans.
Review: ‘The most original book I’ve ever read’ – Benjamin Zephaniah.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
Rooney’s debut book, Conversations With Friends, may not immediately feel like a tale of first love, but it is certainly a story of teenage love and any fan of Normal People will equally adore this tome from the same author. Bobbi and Frances are 20-something ex-girlfriends who get caught up in a ménage à quatre with an older married couple – what ensues is an emotional and sensitive tale of the pain and pleasure of first loves.
Review: ‘This book. This book. I read it in one day. I hear I’m not alone’ – Sarah Jessica Parker.
Where Rainbows End by Cecilia Ahern
Just like Normal People, this warm-hearted novel from the author of PS I Love You is set in Ireland, where the Debs also plays a pivotal role in the story. Told through emails, letters, instant messaging and texts, the story follows two childhood best friends, Rosie and Alex, from their seventh birthdays through to their 50s. With fate seemingly conspiring to keep them apart over the years, Rosie is left wondering if they were meant to be more than just good friends all along.
Review: ‘Queen of the modern fairy tale…love, magic, happy endings. And most of all, hope’ – Irish Times.
One Day by David Nicholls
Another tale of will-they-won’t-they star crossed lovers, Dex and Em meet at university on the night of their graduation. David Nicholls’ enduring love story then catches back up with the pair on the same day of every following year thereafter to see if they’ve finally got it together yet. A wonderful story of romance and heartbreak.
Review: ‘I finished it last night and I’m still quite wobbly and affected by it. It was BRILLIANT. . . the jealousy nearly made me puke. I wish I’d written this book’ – Marian Keyes.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
While our protagonist’s first love isn’t the main plot line of this story, it certainly guides a lot of her decisions in life. We meet Queenie post-break up from her long term boyfriend Tom, who she is most definitely not quite over yet, and follow her as she navigates her way through life, work, family and dating.
Review: ‘Hilarious, compelling, painful, enlightening, honest. I loved it’ – Dolly Alderton.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
An international bestselling phenomenon, Moyes’ timeless love story introduces us to Lou Clark, who has a feeling she doesn’t love her boyfriend Patrick. When she takes a job as a caregiver for Will Traynor, who is paralysed from a motorcycle accident, neither of then are prepared for the effect they will have on each other. Even if you’ve seen the film already, the book is still well worth a read.
Review: ‘An unlikely love story… To be devoured like candy, between tears’ – O, The Oprah Magazine.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
This novel, which made Susan Choi a Pulitzer finalist, captures the story of David and Sarah, two students at a highly competitive performing arts school who fall headfirst in love with each other – the obsessive, uncertain kind only teenagers on the edge of adulthood know. But what happens when a charismatic acting teacher becomes involved? This book leaves you guessing about the final piece in the puzzle right until the very end, making it a captivating, dark and unforgettable read.
Review: ‘Choi captures this awkward, vulnerable stage [of maturity] perfectly—the shifts in peer loyalty, the perilous allure of adults… Dazzling’ – The Mail on Sunday.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If you haven’t yet seen the film of this book, do yourself a favour and read the book first. Hazel has terminal cancer and a (naturally) sour outlook on what she already knows is the final chapter in her short life. Until she meets Augustus Waters at her Cancer Kid Support Group, who comes along to completely rewrite her story. Raw, heartbreaking and bold, this novel is also funny, thrilling as it depicts the tragic business of being alive and in love.
Review: ‘Electric . . . Filled with staccato bursts of humor and tragedy’ – Jodi Picoult.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
A rare condition means our main character Maddy is allergic to the world – stepping outside the sterile sanctuary of her home could literally kill her. But when a new neighbour moves in next door, her small bubble of a world is opened up, including to the possibility of first love.
Review: ‘Powerful, lovely, heart-wrenching, and so absorbing I devoured it in one sitting’ – Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Now a major Netflix movie, Lara Jean keeps a box of unsent letters to her previous crushes under her bed, until one day she finds they have all been posted out to their recipients, forcing her to confront them all – from her first kiss to the boy at summer camp to her sister’s ex-boyfriend. As she deals with her string of past loves, she learns that maybe some good can come out of the debacle after all.
Review: ‘This book is amazing’ – HelloGiggles.com