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The heart-shaped candies and date-night reservations are making me sick to my stomach. When I venture to my bookshelf, I am not looking for a swoon-worthy romance. I am not in the mood to increase my unrealistic dating expectations, especially right before Valentine’s Day. Right now, I am looking for strong central characters, whether I am reading a thriller or contemporary story. So, as we all dread the coming week, here are a few books to take your mind off romance. 

All of the books in this list focus on something other than love. The books range from focusing on self-discovery to growing friendships. None of these books will have a cheesy kissing in the rain scene, but they will have characters that you will fall in love with. 

“This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab

I believe that this book is as far from romance as it gets. The main characters, Kate Harker and August Flynn, live in a world where sins turn people into monsters. An act of violence will mutate into a monster, and Schwab illustrates a monster who wants to be good. The two are thrown together when August, a monster who can steal a soul through music, has the opportunity to work with Kate and leave his past as a monster behind. The two must decide if they are friends or enemies. I adored this duality and how Schwab so delicately shapes each character. The dark atmosphere of violence manifesting into monstrous creatures swept me off my feet more than a significant other ever could. 

“The Black Flamingo” by Dean Atta

Everything I have to say about this novel is positive. The story is written in verse and follows Michael, who is coming to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen. Michael’s process of queer self-discovery will have you crying in the middle of the night. The homage to the drag community and Michael’s experience embracing who he truly is was beautiful. If you found my copy, you would find tear stains across the pages. The focus on Michael’s life distracted me from my lack of romance, and brought me into a story that had me cheering for him the whole time. This book will emotionally destroy you while also giving you the biggest smile. 

“Take Me Home Tonight” by Morgan Matson 

In the synopsis, this novel is described as “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” so of course I had to take a look into the pages just to make sure. “Take Me Home Tonight” quickly became a must-read for me. Two best friends, Stevie and Kat, spend one night in New York City but when plans go awry, phones are lost and family drama pops up, a night in the big city doesn’t necessarily go as planned. While there are small subplots of romance, the biggest aspect of the novel is friendship. Matson has a way of writing characters you’ll want to root for and fall for. If I could be an added member to any friend group, I would pick Kat and Stevie. 

“Sadie” by Courtney Summers 

As a quick disclaimer, there is no romance or friendship in this book. This thriller follows “The Girls,” a podcast dedicated to piecing together clues of a missing girl, named Sadie, from a small town in middle America. It includes a past point of view from Sadie, through the moments leading up to her disappearance and how her story begins to unravel as the podcasters begin to understand what happened. The first chapter had me hooked, and I read this book in one sitting. In some books, you just crave to find out what the ending is and solve the case, and Summers knows exactly how to keep the reader on their toes. “Sadie” brutally depicts the life of a girl who has never had it easy and what happens when she seeks revenge. 

“Circe” by Madeline Miller 

A Greek goddess who turns men into pigs? Sign me up. Madeline Miller has a very dedicated fan club, and I have been a member since day one. Her writing will transport you to ancient Greece and allow you to feel as if Circe herself is telling you her story. Miller understands the nuance of Greek heroes and villains, and it is as if you’re reading the diary of the figures themselves. While Circe’s journey is far different from mine, I still felt deeply connected to how she learned to love herself for who she was. Circe is the original Greek girlboss, and when you’re spending Valentine’s Day alone, reading about a girl who saves herself is a perfect read.

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