By Jessica Pryde
The way we communicate and the way we have fun are a little different in 2020, and that takes some adjustment, especially for the group living through their most formative social years. What we can do is find joy in the things we still have…and one of those things is reading. Reading romance is about finding joy and going places—a road trip in a couple hundred pages. It’s about seeing protagonists make the best of their lives; not just in relationships, but discovering themselves and trying something new. Having a well-rounded, well-balanced life.
For anyone looking to expand their TBR pile, romance novels are a great place to go. Most romance novels are relatively quick and easy to read; they’re conversational and fun; and honestly, they set a pretty good standard for what relationships ought to look like. They provide great examples of people not being ashamed of their emotions or desires (or lack thereof), and provide an array of situations in which people can explore at their own pace.
And since Gen Z is projected to be the most racially diverse, queerest generation in existence, romance is a place you can go to see the past and future of love and romantic stories. Pick up something like Beverly Jenkins’s REBEL and read about Black people in American history with a guaranteed happy ending. Or stay in the present and root for a scientist who is actually betrothed to an African prince in A PRINCESS IN THEORY. Swoon over a pair of telenovela actors who can really get it done in Alexis Daria’s YOU HAD ME AT HOLA (and swoon over the cover while you’re at it). Grab a rom-com like THE LOVE STUDY by author Kris Ripper and laugh along with LGBTQ+ and nonbinary protagonists on their quest for the perfect date . Because that’s what romance guarantees: a happy ever after (HEA), or at least a happy-for-now (HFN)—no matter what.
Romance novels are also the future of crossover entertainment. There’s nothing like crushing a Netflix show and then crushing the book series it’s based on (and pointing out all the discrepancies along the way, amirite?). VIRGIN RIVER? Based on a series by Robyn Carr. There are a lot of those to read, starting with the book of the same name. Same for SWEET MAGNOLIAS (based on a series by Sherryl Woods, starting with STEALING HOME), which is like going to a fantasy town full of very attractive people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. If you get a head start on Beverly Jenkins’s Blessings series, you’ll have a step up on the folks who aren’t sure what HOPETOWN is about when it airs. Start with BRING ON THE BLESSINGS.
…Okay, all three of those examples are about people who live in small towns getting their lives together and relying on the maintenance and development of close friendships, family and community, but isn’t that something we all want to indulge in for a little bit, no matter how old we are or where we’re from? Plus—so much drama. I love it.
And let’s not forget, Gen Z is in romance. Books like SECRET CRUSH SEDUCTION from the Harlequin Desire line feature protagonists of many ages—but many are in their early- to mid-twenties, coming of age and falling in love just like you. And the Carina Adores line, which is focused on tropetastic LGBTQ+ romance for all, is bursting with young protagonists. Iris, the protagonist of Chelsea M. Cameron’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is just 22, right in the middle of that Gen Z. experience.
There is truly something for everyone in romance, and Gen Z is not the exception. As the present and future of reading, Gen Z will more clearly be able to dictate what they want to see in romance. It doesn’t matter if they’re calling for more diverse books or more of the amazing covers that Harlequin, Carina and Avon have been offering up over the past couple of years. Romance is all about hope—not just for a solid, lasting kind of romantic love, but for becoming the person we want to be, and having the mental fortitude to change if necessary. If we can spend a few hours in someone’s head as they take those chances and think those deep thoughts, maybe we can build an inkling of how we want to be and be treated in the future…happy ending guaranteed.