When is a Romance Novel not a Romance Novel?

*Spoiler Alerts for “Anywhere for You” by Abby Greaves*

I recently posed this group to a romance community, and I’m curious, Dear Reader, what your thoughts are.

I recently picked up “Anywhere For You” by Abby Greaves after reading it was a “poignant love story” and “a romance that spans a decade.” While the story was well told, I found myself a little disappointed in the book, simply because it doesn’t quite fit my definition of a “romance.”

The seller I bought the book from had listed it under the “romance” section, and it was touted as a book about the enduring power of love, so it piqued my interest.

I totally get that not every book will have a HEA or even a HFN ending. I also don’t mind books that challenge, subvert, or ignore certain tropes. But this one had me at a loss.

For one, Mary and Jim do not end up together. Their love is portrayed as earth-shatteringly real to Mary, but as a result of Jim’s personal demons, he decides to run out on her without warning and go no-contact for seven years. When Mary’s friends attempt to persuade him to come home, he refuses, but tells them to let Mary know it’s not her fault.

So, again, not a HEA. Fine. Mary is more or less okay with the way things shake out in the end, even though she’s single and Jim chooses to live alone under an assumed name for the foreseeable future. I think it succeeds as a psychological book, or a mystery, but not as a romance.

I suspect that the issue lies in how the book was marketed, not how it was written. But this made me start to wonder about a broader question: what are the bare minimum requirements for a book to truly be a “romance?” Or is it subjective? Have you guys ever picked up a book and been disappointed because it seemed to be labeled under the incorrect genre, and wasn’t a romance at all?