Love is one of my favourite things to talk about and think about — it’s also one of my favourite things to read about (after, you know… dragons). But putting love into practice? It can be harder than we think.

As I grow older, I’ve had to think and rethink what I know about love.

Like many millennials, I grew up on very specific definitions of love — enforced and reinforced by popular media. Love was white, and straight, and thin, and simple. Love was “meet cutes”, and grand gestures, and immortal vampires, “To Me, You Are Perfect”, and Love Story (Taylor’s Version). Love is innate. At first sight. Reserved for our romantic partners and blood relations — or  romanticizing interactions with strangers.

But when we truly explore love, love is messy, and complicated, and hard work. As bell hooks would say: “We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

Love is integral to justice — we cannot care for each other, or fight for the liberation of our communities without love. Love is patient and kind, and gentle, yes — but love is also pushing you to do better, to be better. Love is “we are not free, until all of us are free.” Love is strength, and compassion, as well as tenderness and rest. Love is difficult choices.  Love demands more from all of us. 

But ultimately, love is worthy of celebrating… and that’s what this list is for.

This list is full of books that celebrate love, in all its different forms:romantic love, love as a form of resistance and justice, friendship, family and self-love. 

These books may challenge what you think you know about love. They may ask you to confront your previously held perceptions. They may make you laugh, rage or cry.. But most of all, I hope they make you love love like I do. 

All About Love: New Visions – bell hooks

bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions is REVELATORY, and her work and her words have been foundational to me.

It’s exquisitely written, and every word is full of care and intention. It’s like bell hooks was able to synthesize and learn from years of reading self-help and wellness books, living a life of curiosity, intellect, compassion, and thought, and distill it all into an exquisite reflection of love, what it means, why it’s so essential, and how we can love more, and love better.

Free from pretention and presumption, this book is a balm in a world inundated by wellness culture, self-help, and lovelessness… I can see why it’s considered a “classic”. Her writing is accessible, and thoughtful. I found myself highlighting so often that whenever I read it, I just leave my highlighter uncapped.

This book is a love letter to the world, and to the beautiful promise of who we could be if we all loved a bit more, and loved more intentionally.

Blackout – Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, & Nicola Yoon

Sweet and lovely, I describe this book like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. 

Blackout features an anthology of connecting stories centering young Black love, taking place over the course of a blackout in New York City. Each story is written by a different popular young adult author. There are various kinds of romantic love: from bitter exes remembering why they were together in the first place, to long-time friends deciding whether they want to take the next step, to “meet cutes” with strangers, and past acquaintances.

More than just romantic love, these stories also highlight different kinds of love, including friendship, the love of family, and self-love. There was some great LGBTQ2SIA+ representation, and some really lovely friendships. I enjoyed every single one of the stories, and every character point of view. This book made me think of summer, dancing, soaking up every moment of sunshine, and eating cold treats — and it kind of made me feel that way too.

This is an ode to young, Black love, and honestly a delight.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess – Sue Lynn Tam

I know it’s early, but this incredible fantasy debut is already one of my favourite books of the year! 

This gorgeous story is inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, it features a few great examples of love through friendship and romance. But at it’s core, this is a story about a mother’s love of her unborn daughter, and her daughter’s love for her mother. 

Xingyin is used to solitude. She’s been growing up on the moon with just her mother and her attendant for company, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor, the architect of her mother’s exile, after accusing her of stealing his elixir of immortality. When Xingyin’s magic flares, and her existence is discovered, she’s forced to flee her home, leaving her mother and her whole life behind.

She finds herself alone and powerless in the Celestial Kingdom, a land of magic, wonder, and secrets. After disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son — mastering magic and archery as sparks start to fly between her and the prince. Desperate to save her mother, Xingyin tries to prove herself, embarking on a dangerous quest to try to gain the emperor’s favour, and her mother’s freedom. 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess is full of breathtaking imagery, magic, betrayal, unforgettable characters, lush settings, vivid descriptions, epic battles, great romance, and ✨so many feelings ✨. This book was exquisite.

Seven Days In June – Tia Williams

I have yet to read this love story that everyone (including Reese Witherspoon) has been raving about since it came out in June 2021, but I can’t wait to!

Seven Days In June follows Eva, a single mom and bestselling erotica writer — and Shane, a reclusive, award-winning literary author. When they unexpectedly meet at a literary event, sparks fly, raising the eyebrows of New York’s Black literati, and bringing forth their long-buried past. What no one knows is that twenty years earlier, as teenagers, Eva and Shane spent one intense, passionate week, madly in love — only to be torn apart by violence.

They may be pretending like everything is fine now, but they can’t deny their chemistry… or the fact that they’ve been secretly writing to each other in their books ever since (!!!!).

Taking place over the next seven days, in the middle of a hot, sticky Brooklyn summer, Eva and Shane reconnect. But Eva is not sure how she can trust the man who broke her heart, and wants to get him out of New York so she can go back to her normal life. But first… she needs some answers.

Sweet, tender, heartfelt, sexy, poignant, and beautifully written, this book appears to have it all, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

On A Sunbeam – Tillie Walden

Award-winning artist Tillie Walden’s On A Sunbeam is gorgeous graphic novel, set in the deepest reaches of space, following a crew that rebuilds beautiful and broken down structures, painstakingly putting the past back together. The book jumps back and forth between two timelines. In the present-day, we follow Mia, the newest member of the team, as she gets to know her teammates and her role. In flashbacks, we see her in her pivotal year in boarding school, where she falls in love with a mysterious new student. 

As her crew becomes more like her family, she asks for their help in tracking down her long-lost love.

This book explores the many ties that bind us together — first loves, the love of family,  life partners, friendships, and “found families”. It’s a quick read with  great LGBTQ2SIA+ representation, and you find yourself rooting for everybody.

With a cast of compelling characters and an inventive and fascinating setting, this is a beautifully illustrated “space opera” that’s full of heart.

Crying in H Mart – Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner, better known as Indie musician Japanese Breakfast, can WRITE!

Her memoir, Crying In H Mart, is a beautifully written meditation on love, loss, grief, family, food, and healing.

In this book, Zauner paints a beautiful image of love, loss, grief, and motherhood. She reflects on her often painful experiences growing up as one of very few Asian American kids in her small town, struggling with her mother’s high expectations of her,and of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s apartment in Seoul — bonding with her mother, her aunts, and her grandmother over heaping plates of delicious food.

As she grows up, moves away, and starts dating the man who would become her husband, her “Koreanness” starts to feel further and further away. When her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Zauner is forced to reckon with her identity, and reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother gave her. 

I have a special place in my heart for books about food, and for people who unabashedly, unapologetically love food and cooking. Food has such a special place in my heart, in my memories, in my culture, and in the way I live my life. This book made me want to cook, and eat, and hug my mom, and spend the day walking around my local ethnic grocery store, soaking in the smells and flavours, and echoes of conversations in languages from all around the world.

I was hooked from the first page, and loved every moment of Zauner’s journey. I’m normally a speed reader, but I ended up savouring every single word, every beautifully spun memory, and every painstakingly described meal. I can’t recommend this one enough!

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega – Crystal Maldonado 

I adored Crystal Maldonado’s teen debut, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.

It’s a heartfelt coming-of-age story that centres fat Brown joy, and honestly, I couldn’t ask for more!

This book follows Charlie Vega, a Latinx teen, who is many things: smart, funny, artistic, ambitious, and fat. Unfortunately, people often have a problem with the last one — especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard — and her mom constantly leaving weight loss shakes on her dresser makes it harder. Unfortunately, the world, and everyone in it, have their own idea of what she should look like, and be like: thinner, whiter, straighter-haired, quieter… but there’s one person who’s always had her back — her best friend Amelia.  

Amelia is slim, popular, athletic, and really freaking cool. So, when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with her classmate Brian, everything is perfect until she learns he asked Amelia out first. So, is she his second choice, or what?

This is a beautiful, tender, sensitive, and sometimes painful story about the complexity of love, and the complicated nature of our relationships. It explores the sometimes messy dynamics of friendship, family, our cultures, and our relationship with ourselves — and it does so in a really beautiful and relatable way. I adored this book, and can’t wait to read more from Maldonado.

Open Water – Caleb Azumah Nelson

Currently on hold at my local library, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water is a MUST READ for me.

This is a gorgeous story about two young people who meet at a pub in South London. Both are Black and British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists (he’s a photographer, she’s a dancer), and both are trying to make their mark in a city that celebrates them, and rejects them.

Tentatively and tenderly, they start to fall in love. They seem to belong together, but even two people who seem to be destined to be together can be torn apart by fear and violence.

This book explores difficult topics like racism, police brutality, and heartbreak — inviting questions, and starting conversations on masculinity, otherness, and love. With Open Water, Caleb Azumah Nelson has written a gorgeous novel that celebrates Black love, Black joy, and Black artistry. 

I cannot wait to read this!

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care – Ashley Herring Blake

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care comes out on February 22nd, and if it’s not already on your “must read” list, I hope it will be soon. This is a smart and steamy queer romantic comedy debut about taking chances, and accepting love (complications and all).

Delilah Green swore that she would never go back to her hometown of Bright Falls. There’s nothing there for her but memories of her lonely childhood, where she was nothing more than a burden to her cold and distant stepfamily. Her life is in New York, where her photography career is taking off, and her bed is never empty. It might be a different woman every night, but that’s just fine with her!

When her estranged step sister Astrid pressures her into photographing her wedding with a guilt trip and a five figure cheque, Delilah finds herself back where she never thought she’d be. She plans to be in and out — but then, she sees Claire, one of Astrid’s stuck up best friends, and decides that maybe there’s some fun (and perhaps a little retribution) to be had in Bright Falls, after all.

Delilah is an unwelcome surprise for Claire — who has come to depend on a life without surprises. With an eleven-year old daughter she raised mostly on her own thanks to her unreliable ex, as well as the bookstore she runs — you can hardly blame her. They don’t really know each other, so Claire is unsettled when Delilah knows exactly which of her buttons to push. When they’re forced together for wedding preparations, Claire worries she doesn’t have the strength to resist Delilah’s charms. Even worse… she’s starting to think she doesn’t want to.

Charming, sweet, sexy, and funny, this is more than a love story, it’s a story about reconnecting with family, caring for people you didn’t expect to, and finding a place where you belong.

Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen – Amrou Al-Kadhi

Unicorn is a beautifully written, tender, heartfelt, and sometimes hilarious memoir. It follows Amrou Al Kadhi’s life from being a God-fearing Muslim boy enraptured with their mother, to becoming a vocal, queer drag queen, estranged from their family. 

Al Kadhi is a writer, performer and filmmaker, but perhaps they are best known as Glamrou, an empowered, fearless, and acerbic drag queen who wears seven-inch heels, subverts stereotypes, and says the things that nobody else dares to. 

Growing up in a strict Iraqi Muslim household, it didn’t take them long to realize they were different. When, at ten years old, they announced to their family that they were in love with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, the fallout could have been described as the Iraqi version of Jerry Springer — and that was just the beginning. 

As readers, we’re taken along on a journey through Amrou’s life so far, and it is quite a beautiful ride.

As a teenager, they were obsessed with marine biology, and the fluidity of aquatic life helped them understand their nonbinary gender identity. During their two-year scholarship at Eton College, they try to forge a new identity as a British aristocrat. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work, but they do continue to explore new identities when they discover the transformative powers of drag. 

While not a traditional love story — this is, in many ways, a heartfelt, tender, and emotional story about love. It’s a love letter to their mother, to the complexity of faith, and ultimately, a beautiful story about loving yourself and being true to yourself — the unicorn that you are.

There Are Trans People Here – H. Melt

No list of books about love is complete without at least one poetry book, and the one I want to share with all of you is the one I’m reading now. 

Published by Haymarket Books, There Are Trans People Here is a short and beautiful poetry collection that celebrates and centres the deep care, love, and joy within trans communities.

This poetry collection explores moments of resistance in queer and trans history, and how they catalyzed political and activist movements today. This book honours trans ancestors, contemporary activists, artists, and writers, who are all fighting for trans liberation. 

An ode to the concepts of love as a tool of justice, this book is a testament to the healing power of community, and the beauty of trans people, history, and culture.

Ameema Saeed (@ameemabackwards) is a storyteller, a Capricorn, an avid bookworm, and a curator of very specific playlists, customized book recommendations, and cool earrings. She’s the cohost of High Low Brow Podcast. She enjoys bad puns, good food, dancing, and talking about feelings. She writes about books, unruly bodies, and her lived experiences, and hopes to write your next favourite book one day. When she’s not reading books, or buying books (her other favourite hobby), she likes to talk about books (especially diverse books, and books by diverse authors) on her bookstagram:@ReadWithMeemz