Alright, I’ll admit it. This topic was harder than I thought it would be. Top Five Wednesday this week challenged us to come up with five books with almost no romance in them and yes, if you’re not choosing all children’s books, it’s difficult. I’ve tried to go for books that have as little romance in them as possible, and definitely not books where romance is a major or even a significant minor plot point.
Here are my choices:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
A rare example of YA where romance is not a major part of the book, Code Name Verity is centered around female friendship instead. Set during World War II, the novel tells the story of Maddie and Queenie, young British women who undertake a secret mission behind enemy lines in occupied France. Framed as Queenie’s written confession to her friend as she is being tortured by the Gestapo, Code Name Verity is not short on love, but it is short on romance. This is a book about friendship and bravery in extraordinary circumstances, and I’m so glad that romance plays such a minor role in the book because it’s not needed. The true love here is between this pair of friends who would do anything for each other and, in fact, are forced to.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of a slim list of books I read for school that I actually thought deserved to be read in schools, To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a trial in a sleepy Southern town. I don’t remember there being romance in this book, and if there was it certainly wasn’t prominent enough to overshadow the importance of the book, which sheds light on themes of racism and justice. There are several wonderful relationships portrayed in this novel, from Scout and the family’s relationship with Calpurnia to the father-daughter relationship between Jean-Louise Finch and her moral father, Atticus. The lack of romance is certainly helped by the fact that protagonist Scout is a child, but I think romance would only have diverted from this book anyway and I’m glad it exists in the form it does.
Room by Emma Donoghue
A natural choice for this topic, Room is told from a five-year-old boy’s point of view. To Jack, the one room he lives in is his entire world and he has never known otherwise. To Ma, the room is her prison, the place where she has been held captive by Old Nick for seven years. Room is a story about a mother’s love and I admired the way Ma keeps Jack active, educates him, and engages in play with him as though their existence is normal. One of the interesting things about choosing a child narrator is that it eases some of the blunt horror of the situation. The reader knows that when Ma shuts Jack in the wardrobe to protect him from Old Nick’s visits, that she is being raped by her captor, but Jack doesn’t. Emerging from such circumstances in the later half of the book, and beginning the painful process of dealing with that’s happened to her, romance is the last thing on Ma, or anyone’s, mind.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Watership Down, Richard Adams’ classic tale of a band of English rabbits fleeing the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home, was a childhood favourite of mine. The lack of romance here stems mostly from the fact that while the beloved main rabbit characters, including Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig, do take on some human qualities and have a mythology, they are very much still rabbits. This means that they view women (does) mostly in terms of breeding potential rather than romantically. In a story about humans it would be offensive, but in a story about rabbits who are trying to ensure the survival of their band, procreation would be the chief concern. It’s a mindset that doesn’t lead to any romance, but I don’t remember thinking that the story suffered for it.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd
As someone who had a lengthy “horse phase” when I was a girl, it was only natural that I would love this quick read about a girl in a WWII children’s hospital who sees winged horses in the mirrors of the building. When she discovers that an injured Pegasus has arrived in a secret garden, Emmaline performs tasks for the Horse Lord, collecting a rainbow of items to shield the injured horse from evil until the Pegasus has recovered. It’s a children’s book, but one that is so charming it will enchant adults and children alike (especially those who love horses). Of course a lack of romantic subplots is more common in Children’s Lit, but even though it’s short, the protagonist is a child, and there’s a charm and magic to this book, it deals with weighty enough background issues of illness, loss, and the World Wars, that it doesn’t always feel like a children’s book.
What are some of your favourite books without romance in them?