Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Rambling Post on Love Triangles in YA


I keep reading reviews and articles about The Hunger Games movie and I really shouldn't because I inevitably read the comments and find people who...


...think that Katniss should have killed Peeta at the end of the Games and/or that the only reason she didn't was because Suzanne Collins knew her audience and knew that a YA series needs a "juicy love triangle."

Now, my gut reaction to comments like that is something along the lines of NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO, like a small, angry child. But then I keep reading and thinking and, hey, here's a question: Does YA need love triangles? No, wait, better question, because of course it doesn't need love triangles; there are plenty of YA books and series without them. But what's the deal with love triangles? And, on a more personal level, do I like books better when this element is present?

I'll be the first to admit there are books and series where I absolutely love the "love triangle" (even if I think the term itself is a bit ridiculous) and The Hunger Games series fits the bill. One of my favorite elements of that series is the love aspect and the complications that arise from Katniss' relationships and complex feelings about both boys. To me, it went beyond your typical "romance" in that, romantic or not, there were incredibly strong feelings and dynamics at play with the three of them. Another series where I love the "triangle" aspect is Jenny Han's Summer series (The Summer I Turned Pretty; It's Not Summer Without You; and We'll Always Have Summer). This is another story where that storyline was written incredibly well and the relationships and characters within it treated with real insight and respect. As in Katniss' case, there were real, complicated-but-strong feelings and dynamics at play.

In those books it works. And it works so, so well.

But then there are tons of books, even ones I really like, where the love triangle is something I couldn't care less about. Sometimes it's because apart from the central character, the two love interests have no personalities or their own, or sometimes just because it's obvious from the outset who the protagonist is going to end up with and the hurdles that get in the way present no real challenge. Twilight is a perfect example of this: we know Bella's going to end up with Edward. It's not even a question. Jacob isn't so much a romantic rival as he is a boy with a crush. If I were describing the bare bones of this series to someone who'd never heard of it, I'd have to mention Edward, but I wouldn't have to mention Jacob. It's not a love triangle, not really.

Which brings up this other, sort-of-related point that's been in my head for a while: in real life, "love triangles" are rarely one girl torn between two boys who are unendingly devoted to and in love with her. No, in real life it's more like A(my) likes B(ryan), who likes (C)helsea. And probably, Chelsea likes someone else. There's rarely a happy ending, at least within those three characters/people. There's more ambiguity in real life, and I like that ambiguity reflected in the romance storylines of books, whether or not the romance is part of a triangle. Books like Bittersweet (which has a love triangle) and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (which does not have a love triangle, no matter how much I wanted Frankie to end up with Alpha) capture that ambiguity well, making the romance and the book itself stronger for it.

So, no, YA books don't "need" love triangles. Or rather: not all of them do. Most don't. Some don't need a romance at all (and I'd love to see more books like this). But when it's done right, when all of the characters are important and the relationships are well-crafted, books with this element that has become almost cliche in YA can be pretty amazing.

What are your thoughts on love triangles in YA?


  1. Agreed! Love triangles have to be done well if you're going to have one and the Summer series definitely has an amazing one. I haven't read the last one yet and I'm terrified to do so because I'm dying to know who she'll choose but I don't want to see one get hurt!

    1. Oh, read it!!! I won't say anything about the rest of the book but I will say that the very very end, I think, was perfect.

  2. I absolutely 100% hate love triangles - however, it is because I personally have never read a book that I felt handled it well or needed it, period. I was very dissatisfied with THG's one, and I actually would have liked a more ambiguity-based approach: Peeta likes Katniss, who likes Gale, but Gale sees her only as a sister, or something. That seems like more interesting angst. But both boys loving Katniss and basically allowing her to flit back and forth between them. Plus, I was raised to believe that a girl who kisses more than one boy at a time was loose. And if a boy did the same behavior with multiple girls, to *run*.

    In fact, the only love triangle I've ever loved and appreciated was in the musical version of LES MISERABLES, where Eponine pines after Marius, who loves Cosette, and she loves him back, and Marius couldn't care less about Eponine most of the time. THAT, I think, is more dramatic than characters going back and forth between guys (or girls).

    And like you, I wish that there were more books with zero romance. Michael Scott's NICOLAS FLAMEL series spring to mind, as well as the book I'm currently reading, ENDER'S GAME.