For your summer romance reading pleasure this month: two teenage girls who find love while pulling pranks that chip away at the patriarchy, a maid of honor and best man who make the connection of a lifetime and confront what happily-ever-after really looks like, and a movie star and small-town girl who feature in a love letter to romantic comedies and love stories that end happily.
Amelia Westlake Was Never Here, by Erin Gough, begins as all good high school romances must: in detention. Will (short for Wilhelmina) is there for an act of insubordination, and Harriet is present because she's a Tracy Flick-esque character helping the teacher. Despite not being friends, they bond over their dislike for the pervy swim coach, a former Olympic silver medalist and current darling of the school administration. With Harriet's wit and Will's talent for drawing, they create a cartoon calling him out and put it in the school paper. They attribute it to a made-up student they call Amelia Westlake.
Soon administrators and students alike are buzzing about Amelia Westlake and her series of brilliant pranks that expose harassment and injustices at the school. An unlikely partnership is born between Will and Harriet: Together they have a secret that risks their futures — Amelia's antics will surely get them expelled if they're caught — but they can't quite stay apart, or let go of Amelia. Come for patriarchy-smashing pranks; stay for the sweet love story.
At first blush, Abby Jimenez's The Friend Zone seems like your typical best-man, maid-of-honor, enemies-to-lovers wedding romance. But only at first. When Kristen and firefighter Josh first meet in advance of a mutual friend's wedding, they do not hit it off, even though the attraction is instant. Long story short: Josh ends up doing some carpentry for Kristen, which means working out of her garage. Which is a problem because she's majorly tempted by him. Which is really a problem because of her boyfriend, Tyler, who is currently deployed overseas.
But Josh and Kristen are terrific together, and they know it. Snappy banter and hot nights ensue, plus lots of tender moments involving Josh feeding Kristen. At first they're just friends because she has a boyfriend. And then they're just friends because Josh has made it clear he wants a ton of kids and Kristen has a hysterectomy scheduled because of her epically debilitating periods. (Yes, this romance novel has periods. And fibroids. And struggles with infertility. And hard questions about how essential babies are to a happily-ever-after.) Kristen fights hard to keep Josh at a distance, but then Dramatic Things Happen that I did not see coming, and they end up back together. Like Kristen, this novel doesn't shy away from anything — and like her, it's fiercely loving all the way to the HEA.
Waiting for Tom Hanks, by Kerry Winfrey, is a love letter to rom-coms in the form of a sweet love story between a small-town girl and a big movie star (who is not Tom Hanks) in said small town to film a movie. Annie Cassidy worships at the altar of Nora Ephron, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (and if these names mean nothing to you, you have some movies to watch!). She's also a freelance Web content writer and aspiring screenwriter who lucks into a job on the set of the movie that happens to be filming in her hometown of German Village, Ohio. As required, she has a meet-cute encounter with the hunky star of the movie, Drew Danforth.
Annie decides she doesn't like him for Reasons (which are somewhat of a stretch — I mean, he's hot, kind and funny), and so she resists the attraction between them. Annie has the requisite sad backstory, the quirky best friend and a gift for hysterical banter with everyone in her life. But for someone who insists on seeing her life through the framework of romantic comedies, she is slow to realize that her own love story is happening right in front of her. The lesson, of course, is that no one and nothing is perfect — and sometimes you have to be your own Tom Hanks.
Maya Rodale is a bestselling romance author. Her new book is Some Like It Scandalous.