The Paradox of Love: Love Triangles in YA novels

I know it may sound silly but if there’s one thing that truly bothers me in Young Adult fiction, it’s the very widely used plot device, the ever-dreaded Love Triangle. Love triangles are tricky things, both as a literary device and real life. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t particularly like them in life because I’m always the one who gets shunted off to the side and the other two people get to enjoy the happy boon of a relationship.

To be fair, the idea of a Love Triangle isn’t a new concept. For as long as people have been able to reason and think, and maybe before that depending on your beliefs of human development and growth throughout history, there have been triangles. The formula is simple enough: Person A is jealous of Person C because they’re in a relationship with Person B; in modern YA literature, the formula usually equates out two guys and one girl. Sound familiar yet?

Think about your favorite novels, YA or not, and compare them to the formula above. Can you name five? I can. In no particular order, my five love triangles are:

  • Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (Harry Potter Series)
  • Rose Hathaway, Dimitri Belikov, and Adrian Ivashkov (Vampire Academy Series/Bloodlines Series)
  • Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black (Twilight Trilogy)
  • Katniss Everdeen, Gale Hawthorne, and Peeta Mellark (Hunger Games Series)
  • Astrea, Lexan, and Stian (Starbright Series)

I’ll admit that there’s a ton more than that out there, and no not all of those books are my favorites at all. The point being however, that pop-culture seems to be obsessed with the drama that comes along with Love Triangles. Why is culture so rapidly obsessing on this one set formula?

Love Triangles aren’t a bad plot device if used correctly. J.K. Rowling does a rather nice job of portraying hers, giving the reader guesses as to who would end up with whom. Granted, everyone eventually ends up with what could be called their High School flame (another topic for another day), but Rowling proves her mastery in writing the couples together. They fight, they make up, and sometimes they get hurt. All in all, a semi-realistic portrayal summed up best by the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where Ron witnesses Hermione and Harry coming back from border patrol and assuming that they’ve started a relationship without his knowledge.

I also love Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy novels for showing the fall-out of such a triangle. Rose, who surprise ends up with her flame Dimitri, spends four novels semi-dating Adrian before ultimately running away from school and almost getting herself killed just to save Dimitri. At the end, where her entire world seems to be coming back together, she’s saved the day, Adrian turns up and points out that despite her own world coming together, Rose has effectively ripped everyone else’s apart.

Both of these are well-written and well-rounded love triangles. Unfortunately the rest leave something to be desired.

Bella Swan’s romance with Edward can be argued as abusive, again another topic for another day, however the fact that she is so blatantly indecisive about who she wants is annoying. Bella lacks a fair amount of characterization, her actions reckless and more than a bit disturbing. When rejected by Edward the first time, she literally falls into a 3-4 month long catatonic state. She constantly whines about wanting to be with Jacob but turns right around and does stupid things because she heard Edward’s voice telling her not to. Obviously, she ends up with Edward, but the ending leaves much to be desired. Everyone gets a happy ending, even Jacob ends up with Reneesme (yet another topic for another day), the daughter of Edward and Bella born as Bella effectively dies and becomes a vampire. Overall, a weak triangle with weak characters.

As much as I love the Hunger Games trilogy, the love triad here also leaves a lot to be desired. I’ll admit, it does get better as the series goes on, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at that Gale’s entire personality and demeanor changes when he can’t have what he wants. It’s a bit childish in the way it’s executed, something that you’d have expected from characters in their early teens, not ones who by the end of the series are in their late teens to early twenties. Katniss eventually chooses Peeta, though for a while it looks like nobody’s going to end up partnered due to Katniss’s own stubborn behavior (not a horrible thing). In the end though, Gale ends up having to live in a separate district to just ignore Peeta and Katniss’s relationship. It’s an okay triangle, but leaves a lot to be desired.

Recently I read Justice Buried the first novel in the Starbright Series. It’s an interesting series, and I highly recommend you read my review for it. That said, I found my excitement the new ideas and newest of the novel worn down by the end of hte novel. Astrea’s still struggling to choose between the man she’s supposed to marry, Lexan, and Stian, the rugged outsider (literally). What makes things even more confusing is the possibility of a second love triangle that’s thrown in at the end of the novel. It’s filled with Astrea hesitantly acknowledging that there may be more to Lexan than she originally thought, Stian is not the angel she imagined, and honestly does she have time for a partner at all. My frustration only grew with this novel’s love triangle when it suddenly became a love square about 20 pages from the end of the novel. All in all, I’m curious to see where this love triangle/square plays out since there’s more to come.

Perhaps my frustration with love triangles is unjustified. After all, I have little experience with them on my own both in reality and in anything I write. But would it kill writers to add a little more spark to such a tired tradition. As stated earlier the usual triangle formula is one where Person A (usually female) has an ongoing relationship with Person B (male), and along comes Person C (also male) who steals her attention causing B to retaliate. Poor A is now stuck between choosing B and C for their affection. While I admit that it’s not a bad system to use (especially if you’re a first time writer), we the readers would humbly request that you possibly think to mix it up a bit.

Place B and C in a situation where B is with A but falls in love with C. Or change up the dynamics of the group. Instead of filling the character slots in the traditional sense of two guys and one girl, put it as two girls and one guy, or three girls, or three guys. Make the focus aromantic love. Make it a jealousy in a friendship. Just please… let the love triangle system rest for a while.

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About librarianfatale

Miss Powell works for the Montgomery City-County Public Library serving as assistant branch head for one of the eleven branches in the system. Miss Powell enjoys reading Historical Fiction, YA novels, and Scottish Romance novels. She also runs another blog called A Bibliotaph’s Reviews and will be a contributor to the blog What Your Librarian Reads. Miss Powell enjoys spending her down time at home with her one cat, Gwen, a good book, and a cup of tea. She hopes one day to visit Scotland and perhaps eventually move there. View all posts by librarianfatale

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