Celebrate Valentine’s Day with these classic and contemporary books and movies that portray the complexities of first love. The following list contains a mix of classic and contemporary, bound to offer something for everyone.
Valentine’s Day Books;
1. Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
This novel, published in 1975, has been called a classic of children’s literature: it’s sold over 5 million copies and has been adapted into feature films, audiobooks, and musicals. It follows eleven-year-old Winnie Foster as she meets Jesse Tuck, a seventeen-year-old boy who has a startling secret—he’s immortal. The Tuck family discovered this after accidentally drinking from a spring in the woods. Its water grants eternal life, and Jesse warns Winnie not to repeat his mistake. Despite this, Winnie falls in love with Jesse, and he gives her a bottle of the spring water to drink when she turns seventeen. Winnie’s ultimate decision and its results explore the desirability of immortality, and what it means for love.
2. American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
This 2006 finalist for the National Book Award is a graphic novel that traces three separate stories: one based on the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong, a character from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West; one about first-generation-American Jin Wang, as he adjusts to his life in a new neighborhood and high school; and one about American teenager Danny’s interactions with his Chinese cousin during his cousin’s annual visits. While the stories appear to be unrelated, as the novel unfolds, they are shown to intertwine, and to all relate to Jin Wang—in particular, how he comes to embrace himself and to navigate the relationship with his all-American girlfriend, Amelia Harris, in the context of his first-generation identity.
3. The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider
Ezra Faulkner is a varsity tennis captain, and he’s a shoo-in for homecoming king. But then the unthinkable happens: a car accident breaks his leg, his girlfriend cheats on him, and he falls in love with someone else. Cassidy Thorpe is a new girl, caring yet unpredictable, and in the wake of Ezra’s fall from grace, she offers him redemption through love. The novel is a witty, sharp take on the coming-of-age story, exploring the beauty that can spring from tragedy and the part of you that remains when everyone else’s expectations fall away.
4. Pride, by Ibi Zoboi
This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in New York City’s own Bushwick neighborhood, follows teenager Zuri Benitez as she grapples with first love, college applications, cultural identity, and love triangles. The central conflict revolves around Zuri’s new neighbors, the wealthy Darcy family, for whom she couldn’t care less—until her older sister, Janae, starts falling for one of the Darcy sons, Ainsley. As much as she dislikes Ainsley, Zuri dislikes his brother, Darius, even more. But as the novel progresses, their dislike blooms into an unexpected mutual understanding—and maybe more. This book explores contemporary young adulthood in an endearing and honest manner: the good, the bad, and everything in between.
5. Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden
Published in 1982, and selected for the American Library Association’s “Best of the Best” books list for the decade in which it was written, this novel remains a heartfelt, enduring classic. Seventeen-year-old Liza Winthrop, the protagonist and narrator, lives in an upscale neighborhood in Brooklyn Heights, is student body president at her private school, and aims to study architecture at MIT. One rainy day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she meets Annie Kenyon. Annie’s also seventeen, but from markedly different circumstances: she attends a public school, lives with her immigrant family in a shabby neighborhood, and wants to be a singer at Berkeley. The book chronicles Liza and Annie as they come to realize their feelings for one another, their transition between life stages as they apply to college and are accepted, and the reactions of their families and friends to their relationship.
Valentine’s Day Movies;
1. 10 Things I Hate About You
This 1999 romantic comedy, a modernization of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, follows the lives of high school students Cameron (Joseph Gorden-Levitt), Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), Patrick (Heath Ledger), and Kat (Julia Stiles). New student Cameron pines for Bianca, and in order to circumvent her father’s strict rule about dating (forbidden!), he tries to get bad boy Patrick to go after Bianca’s serious, studious, and bad-tempered older sister, Kat. The title of the film reflects the title of a poem Kat writes about her relationship with Patrick in its aftermath, which ultimately reveals that she still loves him. This classic rom-com follows the complex web of these four teenagers’ lives as they navigate the clumsy terrain of first love.
2. 500 Days of Summer
Zooey Deschanel stars as Summer, a quirky and interesting girl who attracts the attention of hopeless romantic Tom (Joseph Gorden-Levitt). This film leaps through time, tracing Tom and Summer’s relationship non-chronologically: it begins with Tom’s surprise at being dumped by Summer, who “doesn’t believe in love,” and then Tom’s reflections on the 500 days they spent together as he tries to figure out where it went wrong.
3. Walk the Line
This movie fictionalizes the romance of real-life musicians Johnny Cash and June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon star as the infamous pair, tracing how Johnny and June’s love blossomed over the course of their making music and touring together.
4. Slumdog Millionaire
Dev Patel portrays eighteen-year-old Jamal Malik, a poor boy who’s exceptionally good at answering questions on the show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” Accused of cheating, Jamal has to tell the police his life story, to show (through flashbacks) how he became so talented. The film is told through flashbacks and resolves in a happy ending, a kiss with his love interest Latika.
5. Love & Basketball
This 2000 film traces Monica and Quincy, childhood friends who both aspire to be professional basketball players. As they grow up, Monica and Quincy fall for each other, but their professional dreams threaten to pull them apart and cause competition.