Culture

10 non-traditional love stories to read in February

During the month of love, try some fiction that thinks outside the heart-shaped chocolate box

During the month of love, try some fiction that thinks outside the heart-shaped chocolate box

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The month of February never fails to summon memories of spicy cinnamon hearts and nauseating love songs. The impending love-fest that is Valentine's Day ekes its way into every commercial corner; I've come to accept the inevitable.

Even my sacred space, the bookstore, bows down to Cupid during the shortest month of the year, lining its displays with marketable romance novels. But this always presents a bit of a challenge.

Most of book-lovers, like me, savour the complete control we have over our selections — it's why we deliberate so slowly over what to read next. A reader's bookshelf offers a glimpse of who they are, what interests and excites them, and we're loath to give this power away.

At the same time, we're not immune to the pull of a great love story. It's hard to find a book that doesn't contain at least a sliver of love, after all (it does make the world go round).

That's why, from one reader to another, I suggest you embrace the month of love this year and pick up a novel featuring our favourite four-letter word. But to shirk commercial Cupid, walk past the displays, and try one of these well-written, non-traditional love stories instead.

Tin Man  by Sarah Winman

A stunning novella by the talented Sarah Winman, Tin Man introduces us to Annie, Ellis and Michael, three friends who are stuck in an impossible love triangle. Ellis and Michael meet at 12 years old, bonding in a summer over swimming and cycling through 1960s Oxford. When we catch a glimpse of Ellis as an adult, he's married to Annie, and Michael's story is left untold.

Tin Man is an unconventional love story about impossible decisions and the possibility of loving two people — of two different genders — at the same time. It may make you reconsider everything you've ever told yourself about romance.

The Kiss Quotient  by Helen Hoang

Stella Lane is a math whiz on the autism spectrum with a real aversion to kissing. In an attempt to overcome her awkward feelings about kissing and sex, she hires escort Michael Phan, who introduces Stella to all kinds of feelings she didn't know she had.

While the book certainly falls under the conventional romance category, Helen Hoang's The Kiss Quotient offers up an insightful, well-written love story that we haven't heard before, setting it well apart from the pack.

I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You  by Yumi Sakugawa

In her adorable graphic novel about friend-love, not love-love, California-based comic artist Yumi Sakugawa offers the perfect reminder that some of the best, most loyal relationships in life are the platonic kind.

Told through simple and sweet graphics, this story about a one-eyed monster who shares his friend-love with others is completely relatable — an ideal read for those of us who find friendship is where we find true love.

Never Let Me Go  by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hailsham is a secluded English boarding school, where kids can grow up away from the fog and noise of the city, and enjoy an idyllic childhood and education. But when friends Kathy, Ruth and Tommy are old enough to leave school grounds, they begin to uncover an uncomfortable truth about their upbringing.

Never Let Me Go is a groundbreaking book that unpacks questions about society and what makes us human, but also tells a sweet love story that feels equally familiar and strange. Kazuo Ishiguro writes like no one else, which is why his version of love is definitely a unique one.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James  by Emma Hooper

Etta has spent most of her life on the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan. At 82, she decides it's finally time to see the sea, embarking on an unbelievable 3,232-kilometre journey. Back home, her husband Otto is left alone with his vivid memories.

A dash of magical realism brings wonder to Canadian author Emma Hooper's otherwise quiet love story. What's more, the vulnerability of her characters are enough to soften any heart, with the elderly Russell and his enduring love leaving a particularly lasting impression.

Where the Crawdads Sing  by Delia Owens

A stunning debut about a resilient woman and her connection to her land, the love story here isn't as much between two people as it is between a girl and her marsh. Where humans have failed Kya, the nature surrounding her North Carolina shack has been her guide.

Where the Crawdads Sing gives us a glimpse of an abandoned child who is embraced and nurtured by the wild — an unlikely love story that acclaimed author Delia Owens tells with grace and purpose.

They Both Die at the End  by Adam Silvera

In They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera pens a story about two teen boys who find a lifetime of love in their last day on earth (yes, you'll need tissues for this one). Told in an alternate reality, teens Mateo and Rufus find each other after being notified they'll both die by the end of the day.

What makes this book unique is obvious from a plot perspective. But beneath that, it also brings up all kinds of questions about death, and the value of being loved and needed, especially on our last day.

Brother  by David Chariandy

Written by stand-out Canadian author David Chariandy, this award-winning book packs a heavy punch. The protagonists are two brothers born to Trinidadian immigrants, and the narrative follows them as they navigate life in a housing complex on the outskirts of Toronto.

Brother is at once a story about the love between a family and what happens when a family is violently separated. It's heartbreaking and powerful, and it deserves a spot in this list for lending a voice to one of the deepest kind of connections: the love between siblings.

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise  by Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d'Argenteuil

Through a series of translated letters, readers get an intimate look at the love between 12th-century French philosopher Pierre Abélard and his pupil Héloïse in this fascinating book. Some would say that Abélard and Héloïse's relationship is the very definition of love, as their story is far from perfect.

As Cristina Nehring puts it in her review for the New York Times, "The love stories that touch us most deeply are punctuated by human frailty. Look at them up close and you see the fault lines, compromises and anticlimaxes."

Sunburn  by Laura Lippman

In this psychological thriller, we're introduced to two strangers who meet and spend a passionate summer in Belleville, Delaware. Polly and Adam leave us with many unanswered questions, though there's no denying the fact that they're ridiculously in love.

This is a sexy and dark story, unlike most of the fairytale romances we've heard before. But what makes Sunburn so special is that even though you might not always like the characters, you'll still enjoy where their story takes you — and you'll root for their love along the way.


Brianna Bell is a freelance writer living in Guelph with her husband and three daughters. Connect with her at Brianna Bell Writes.

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