Since the days of Romeo and Juliet, people have been compelled by tales of star-crossed romance. These stories can take many forms — from families that forbid a relationship, to cultures, religions, customs and circumstances that make it nearly impossible. But as we optimistic readers know, love conquers all.
However, these five books go deeper than a surface-level forbidden romance trope and a quick happily-ever-after. They each deftly tackle the nuance of cultural, racial, economic, political and religious differences that characters are required to navigate in order to form a lasting relationship.
Ties that Tether by Jane Igharo
Azere made a promise to her father when he died — to preserve her culture and marry a Nigerian man. As a Nigerian woman in Canada, her surroundings limit her options, and poor matchmaking from her mother does nothing to help her find the man of her dreams. But one thing leads to another, and she ends up chatting up the handsome, and white, Rafael.
Torn between questions about the way her relationship shapes her identity, and wondering if she is letting her late father down, Azere needs to make a choice. Should she do what it takes to be happy, even if her parents don’t approve? Or should she continue to live as an obedient daughter? Ties that Tether is a moving story of family, love and tradition shows the struggle of an immigrant trapped between two worlds, and the challenge of finding the balance between cultures.
Where the Sun Rises by Anna Gomez and Kristoffer Polaha
Maele is a 22-year-old Hawaiian native, born and raised in Kauai. For the past six years, Oahu has been her adopted home. As the only child of a working-class family, she lives with her parents on their farm, working during the day and taking classes at night.
Adam was born and raised in Oahu but comes from a strikingly different economic class — his father is one of the richest men in Oahu. When the two meet at a wedding and catch each other’s attention, they don’t realize how different they are. But Adam is pursuing a career making movies in Los Angeles, and Maele’s dreams bring her to Kauai. Can they overcome their economic differences and dreams that require them to be in different places? Or will it prevent them from building a relationship?
(Read BookTrib’s review here.)
Nad of Nadidé by Wagih Abu-Rish
Nad of Nadidé is a unique love story set in 1981 in Istanbul, Turkey amidst political turbulence. The fast-paced action that drives this one-of-a-kind romance derives from the unlikely pairing of 20-year-old engineering students Fareed and Nadidé.
Nadidé’s devout Muslim father insists that his daughter marry someone who shares her background. In other words, not Fareed, who was raised in London and Beirut by an Irish mother and a Palestinian father. Nadidé is arranged to be married to another man, and struggles with her life as a woman in her current political climate. She must decide to defy her family and fight the confines of a dictatorship that boxes her in. This love story unfolds in a complicated and sometimes dangerous mix of intrigue, diplomacy and cut-throat politics.
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
Andrea is enjoying life as a single woman. She is a successful lawyer in Singapore, with a great group of friends and a meddling family. When her family gets involved in her dating life, trying to prevent her from being the only unmarried person left in her generation, she resists. Her Chinese-Malaysian family wants her to find someone like Eric — a wealthy Chinese man who Andrea considers giving a chance, for her mother’s sake. But when dating apps and bad dates leave her hopeless, she turns to her co-worker and appealing office rival, Suresh.
Andrea navigates frustration about her family’s, and her workplace’s, disregard for unmarried women. She also grapples with the challenges of an interracial relationship and close-minded family members and the role that her culture plays in acceptance.
The Great Peony by Jannah Bayyan
The Great Peony: Safina Cameron flips the script on racism and discrimination, imagining a world where dark-skinned people thrive in High Society, while light-skinned people make up the lower class with less access to resources and education. Born into the more affluent of two factions, Sophy lives a life of privilege, where marriage is not only encouraged, but considered to be the highest accomplishment.
But she believes marriage should be sacred, not a business deal. In a world where she cannot marry for love, her choice is to not marry at all. That is until she meets the man that makes her second-guess everything. There is only one problem — he is a member of the other society. This is a fascinating piece of speculative literary fiction about a young woman fighting against the expectations of her society and her family — doing it for justice, and for love.