Why you should care
Because do we really need another love story between straight, cisgender, White people?
“Romance is one of the genres … that is putting out #ownvoices stories where the protagonists are guaranteed a happy ending,” says romance writer Adriana Herrera. And yet, mainstream romance — disregarded as the genre fiction equivalent of a journalistic puff piece — has historically been a glaringly White, straight space.
Diversity in the genre “is mainly the preserve of indie presses,” says Clare Ashton, an award-winning lesbian author. This is reiterated by Leah Koch of romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice, where 80 percent of the best-sellers are written by women of color. “We have way more self-published books than most independent bookstores because so many authors of color end up self-publishing,” says Koch.
Still, diverse romance is having something of a moment. Novels by breakout stars like Jasmine Guillory and Helen Hoang have garnered critical acclaim, but what about the dozens of diverse romances that mainstream media may have overlooked? Here are five spectrum-spanning titles that range from the frothily lighthearted to the overtly randy.
SOFIA KHAN IS NOT OBLIGED BY AYISHA MALIK (2015)
In Ayisha Malik’s breath-of-fresh-air debut (widely compared to Bridget Jones’s Diary), book publicist, blogger and devout Muslim Sofia Khan cuts her fiance loose when he proposes living with the in-laws and connecting their homes with a hole in the wall. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and, it seems, she also will not compromise. But then she lands a book deal and finds herself wading into the Muslim dating scene once more … for research purposes of course.
KNIT ONE, GIRL TWO BY SHIRA GLASSMAN (2017)
In just 68 pages, Knit One, Girl Two unspools the burgeoning romance between two Jewish girls in South Florida: small-batch yarn dyer Clara and painter Danielle. While the abrupt ending is a little jarring, the lead up — rooted in concepts of feminism and consent — makes it worth a read, as Clara and Danielle bond over art, controversial Jewish food opinions and a nerdy-but-endearing shared interest in Captain Werewolf fan fiction.
GLITTERLAND BY ALEXIS HALL (2013)
Whether bipolar protagonist Ash is evoking the hedonism of a hookup, the “synaesthetic chiaroscuro” of a Brighton gay bar or the crushing self-sabotaging depths of depression, Hall’s prose sparkles — much like Ash’s unlikely “glitter pirate” love interest Darian. The novel is as much about Ash coming to love himself (or at least accept himself) as it is about the endearing will-they-won’t-they between perhaps the most unlikely, polar-opposite coupling in the romance genre. But be warned: Glitterland’s graphic sex scenes place it firmly on the raunchier end of romance. And prepare yourself for the pitch-perfect evocation of Darian’s Essex accent throughout.
AMERICAN DREAMER BY ADRIANA HERRERA (2019)
An impressively, aggressively horny debut by Adriana Herrera, American Dreamer — the first of her “Dreamers” series — allowed this African Dominican writer to “portray thriving queer communities of color,” she says. After locking eyes over the counter of a Caribbean food truck in upstate New York — Herrera’s evocation of island cuisine is almost as sensual as the numerous intense sex scenes — it’s lust at first sight for African Dominican Nesto and “blanquito, like W-H-I-T-E” Jude who tag-team the narration throughout. And Herrera’s addition of a meddling White woman among her predominantly Brown-from-the-Bronx cast is flawlessly true-to-life.
POPPY JENKINS BY CLARE ASHTON (2016)
“Poppy Jenkins was poignant and uplifting to write” for Clare Ashton, who — much like the eponymous Poppy’s at-times-infuriating-and-intoxicating love interest, the Dickensian-named Rosalyn Thorn — was ambivalent about her everyone-knows-everyone mid-Wales upbringing. Loaded with puns (the double entendre appeal of buns and baps is apparent but who knew an antique cake counter could be so sensual?), Poppy Jenkins blends quaint small-town concerns like cake shops and craft fairs with the frustrations of insular communities, creating a second-chance romance that will leave a sweet aftertaste.
Clare Ashton reads from Poppy Jenkins
- A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole: A Black New Yorker finds her African prince.
- Casting Lacey by Elle Spencer: Hollywood sham marriages have never looked so gay.
- I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver: Nonbinary high schooler finds comfort in their fellow student.
- I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif: Interfaith British romance that Clare Ashton considers “a bit of classic on the queer woman’s romance shelf.”
- I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn: Teen friendly rom-com with a Japanese American lead.
- Xeni: A Marriage of Inconvenience by Rebekah Weatherspoon: Two bisexual leads, one of which is a plus-size Scotsman, embark on … well, a marriage of convenience.
- Breathe by Cari Hunter: Queer romance with “one foot firmly in a puddle of reality in Northern England,” says Ashton.