Valentine’s Day is fast-approaching. Drugstore aisles are lined with boxed chocolates, teddy bears, and roses. The card section is bright pink and red, and dinner reservations for February 14th have been all booked up.
Now, I don’t mean to sound like a cynic, but I do find it odd that Valentine’s Day focuses so heavily on romantic love when there are so many other types of love to experience in the world. We love our friends, siblings, parents, extended family, the family we make for ourselves, and even our pets (…definitely our pets). Sometimes, we even love the people we least expect to find ourselves drawn to.
Here are four books I’d like to recommend for this February, so you can appreciate different kinds of love, regardless of your other plans or current relationship status. So grab one of these books and get comfy with some drugstore chocolate in your favorite campus spot.
1. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
This book is an old favorite that I pick up about once a year, and I can’t resist recommending it here. Annie on My Mind was first published in 1982 and is renowned as the first young adult novel about lesbians with a positive ending. This is a story of unexpected, forbidden love between two young girls in New York City. First loves are always intense, but they are especially complicated for young people who are also coming to terms with their own identities in the process. One of my personal favorite parts of this book comes when Annie and Liza realize that a couple of older women who they admire and respect are in a relationship with one another, emphasizing the importance of role models and visibility for the LGBTQ community.
2. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
When I picked this book up, I knew nothing about it beforehand, but I loved Gabrielle Zevin’s young adult fiction when I was in high school, so I decided to give it a shot without even reading the back. I wound up reading the entire book in one sitting because I loved it so much. This book tells the story of A. J., a widowed bookstore owner whose prized possession, a wildly valuable Poe collection, gets stolen. This one event sparks a series of others, which show grumpy A. J. that he is in fact capable of love — love for literature, a new partner, and even an unexpected new family member. Although this story does contain a romantic plot line, I personally found that familial love was the most powerful in this novel.
3. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
This novel is so compelling, not because of any catastrophic events or shocking twists, but because of how the intricacies of daily life and internal conflicts are so artfully relayed. Eilis, a young girl from a small town in Ireland, has been offered passage to Brooklyn, New York in the early 1950s. Again, this story does contain a romantic plot line, but that seemingly perfect romantic relationship is complicated by Eilis’s love for her siblings, especially her older sister Rose, her mother, and her home country of Ireland. When your heart is torn in so many directions on either side of the Atlantic, where is your true home? How can you measure which loves are more important than others?
4. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
This book contains some magical realism, which is typically not my taste at all, but I absolutely loved this book. Sydney and her daughter Bay have just escaped from Sydney’s abusive husband and head back to Sydney’s hometown for safety. This book is, above all, the story of two sisters, Claire and Sydney, who rediscover their love for one another after many years apart. I love the strong familial bonds and the bonds between women in all of Sarah Addison Allen’s novels, especially Garden Spells. Be sure to check out the sequel, First Frost, set several years later, for Bay’s coming-of-age story and to see what happens to Claire and Sydney.