In Defense of Love Triangles

Posted by Hayley on December 09, 2017
Beware the Wild author Natalie C. Parker knows you probably have thoughts about love triangles…but she's here to smash your previously held conceptions. In the upcoming young adult anthology Three Sides of a Heart, top YA authors—including Veronica Roth, Garth Nix, Renée Ahdieh, and more—put their own suprising spins on the much-debated trope. Goodreads asked Parker, who edits the collection and writes one of the 16 stories, to share her thoughts on the past, present, and future of the love triangle.



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Two years ago, I didn't think I cared much about love triangles.

I don't even recall the first one I encountered. Was it Luke-Han-Leia in Star Wars? (I was a child of the '80s and managed to experience the triangle free of spoilers.) Was it Phantom-Christine-Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera? (I was a child of the '80s, and I loved all things Andrew Lloyd Weber.) Or was it Olivia-Viola-Orsino in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night? (This has nothing to do with being a child of the '80s.) It could have been one of those or one of dozens of others. Whichever was the first, I grew up with stories that wielded love triangles marvelously.

But even though I was a consumer of the love triangle, I didn't think I had an opinion—good or bad—about it as a trope. At least not until I noticed the criticism directed toward manifestations of the love triangle in young adult literature. I doubt you could find a topic as polarizing as YA love triangles. Critics use the trope to trivialize YA fiction as a whole, and readers include love triangle warnings in their reviews of individual novels.

When I encountered this debate, I basically "Hulked out" with a rage I didn't fully understand—and spent a good 15 minutes shouting at my friends about tropes and feminism and romance.

So, it turned out, I did have a few feelings about the love triangle. And when I descended from my private rage planet, I realized the best way to engage with the conversation about love triangles and YA literature was to build an anthology. Now, as the anthology is about to be released, I'm just as excited to be joining the debate as I was when I pitched the project.

The love triangle has suffered from a stagnant definition in recent years. In fact, the minute someone mentions "love triangles" and "young adult" in the same sentence, we can't help but think of Edward-Bella-Jacob and Peeta-Katniss-Gale. They have come to fix our notion of the YA love triangle as one girl (usually white, cisgender, and heteronormative) choosing between two boys, each representing the version of herself she wants to be.

These manifestations of the love triangle are like the sun. They fill up the sky so completely, we sometimes forget that there are millions of stars out there offering a different quality of light.

Yes, there was an explosion of love triangles in the wake of both Twilight and The Hunger Games, but be wary of discounting the love triangles of the future.

This is a trope with so much more to offer.

I invited my anthology contributors to twist, expand, or explode the love triangle in a short story genre of their choice, and they delivered in full force. This collection demonstrates the multifaceted potential of the love triangle. I won't claim that it's a comprehensive compendium of all possible love triangles because 1) it's not and 2) I sincerely hope the possibilities of this trope are endless. What I will claim is that these love triangles take the trope through its paces. These stories are romantic and angry, they are political and introspective, and they are adventurous and heartbreaking.

In the process of editing this anthology, I discovered something I suspected all along: that as young adult literature strives toward stories that are inclusive and that challenge the status quo, the tropes we're so familiar with will change before our eyes.

The love triangle is a narrative tool. It's part of the emotional fabric of the story, and as YA expands in a thousand new ways, I suspect the love triangle will, too.


Three Sides of a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles hits bookshelves on December 19. Add it to your Want to Read shelf here.


Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Zane (new)

Zane Carey I came here expecting to completely disagree, and ya know what, I was convinced.
"the tropes we're so familiar with will change before our eyes."
Wow. That's just, so true. I don't hate love triangles, I hate hegemony.
I am SO DOWN to read this anthology now!!!!


message 2: by Jenny (last edited Dec 12, 2017 02:24PM) (new)

Jenny This has the potential to be one of the best YA Anthologies I've read. What a great topic to explore! I'm really interested to see what these authors came up with!


message 3: by Reeter (new)

Reeter Honestly, I get the feeling this anthology won't go into the problems that can come with a love triangle. If a love triangle works itself out, that's fine, but if you want this trope to expand, that actually needs to happen. And I don't mean simply adding queer or non-White characters. I mean more love triangles should go completely wrong, or fizzle out.

For example, the protagonist decides to walk away and cut ties with both love interests because things are getting complicated. Maybe one love interest will kill the other, and try to kill the protagonist. You know, make the triangle actually interesting and complicated, and feature characters that we care about. I want to see more authors to put their characters through hell, and explore the love triangle.


message 4: by Divinesanction (new)

Divinesanction nice post.


message 5: by Eule (new)

Eule On the one hand, this anthology sounds tempting, on the other I am wondering if a love triangle is solveable in some interesting way in short time, or a small amount of pages.
I don't have anything against love triangles per se, more against rushed romance in which characters are mashed together just for the sake of having a love story of some kind in the story.


PrincessKonsvelaBananaHamek I just want to read about a love triangle where it's not obvious who's it gonna be! Is that too much to ask for?


message 7: by Cadeyrn (new)

Cadeyrn Kearney Hey, you have valid points. I still don't care about love triangles.

The romance genre has made me stick my tongue out at romance in general. Ironically, I think the best romance I've ever read happened in books that were decidedly classified not as romance. Tamora Pierce does a few. They aren't mindblowing but I can appreciate them for their gentle existence. The Wheel of Time has excellent ones, Mat and Tuon are quirky and they end up working. The Queen's Thief by Megan Whalen Turner feature romance more prominently. So does the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. In fact, the best YA "Romance" that I've read is the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima.

Thing is. It's not you, it's me. Perhaps some experience or other has made me grimace at it. Perhaps it's my asexuality. Perhaps it's because I value rationality and high cerebral function so greatly. Maybe it's all of these.

But I've always found love triangles silly. Sillier than regular romance, and that's already silly enough in most books.


message 8: by Katie (new)

Katie Some good points.....while totally ignoring a lot of good points the other side has. No, it's not just because they have white, straight characters. It's because they're EVERYWHERE in YA fiction. And a lot of ANY trope will get annoying and then get mocked. Also most of them are the insta love kind that make me roll my eyes because oh no, how will she ever be able to choose these two people she only just met and half the time are complete jerks to her.

I don't mind romance when it's written well and it's not the ONLY thing the main character cares about, but when you add a love triangle that's just like double the time to spend on the romance plot rather then you know, what I'm there for in the story. And in the stories I'm reading they're usually genre and not flat out romance stories.


message 9: by Cadeyrn (last edited Dec 13, 2017 09:51AM) (new)

Cadeyrn Kearney Katie wrote: "I don't mind romance when it's written well and it's not the ONLY thing the main character cares about, but when you add a love triangle that's just like double the time to spend on the romance plot rather then you know, what I'm there for in the story. And in the stories I'm reading they're usually genre and not flat out romance stories."
My sentiments exactly. Bravo, Katie.


message 10: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Webster You should check out the love triangle in Valley of the Bees. It turns the trope upside-down!


message 11: by Leila (new)

Leila The only love triangle that I’ve encountered in YA that was done well was Tessa, Will and Jem in The Infernal Devices


message 12: by Dhfan4life (new)

Dhfan4life Interesting article. And hope the author's anthology does reflect different aspects of the love triangle. However, I still stand by the fact that I'm not a fan of them. Rather in YA writing or adult writing.

It's not to say that relationships have to or need to be just one man or one woman in real life for me to be cool with it. But when it comes down to my reading, I much rather prefer to have two fully fleshed out characters working through something or trying to achieve a goal or what have you together. And the addition of a third party can at times...(and to put this delicately) lead to quite the cluster f*ck of a situation for me at times.

Because either the third person is just tacked on to an already established situation and doesn't make sense. There is hardly ever any real thought as to why the heroine is choosing one guy over the other. So when they DO choose, it just makes no logical sense. Or even from the get go, neither option is really all that appealing or have weak reasons for even liking the heroine in the first place as well. And it's like why is my time being wasted reading about characters that aren't even sure why they were thrown together in the first place either.

So after saying all of that, I still say regardless of how you turn it on it's ear. I really. REALLY, do not care for love triangles. Undo reading stress so I try and avoid at ALL cost if possible.


message 13: by Jo (new)

Jo Carter Love triangles are like any other device in fiction. If they're done well they can be amazing. If not they can be horrid. Just like any other plot, subplot, character, idea etc. It's all in the execution.
My pet hate with badly done love triangles is when they're added in the second book to add tension to the pre existing relationship. As if the author can't think of ways to make the romance interesting again. There has to be a reason for the character to fall for someone else as well.


message 14: by Ezinwanyi (new)

Ezinwanyi I love the Love Triangle trope. Life is like that, choices that aren’t easy it even good. But it is enjoyable for me to read


Little Dew Droplets When I saw this anthology, I rolled my eyes. An entire book dedicated to YA love triangles sounds like a nightmare at first sight. But then one name caught my atention, and it changed everything: Veronica Roth.

I am not a fan of the Divergent series. Not. By. Far.
But there is one thing that I can't forget about that trilogy, the only thing I delved into the fandom for, and the only thing that drove me to fanfics: Uriah-Marlene-Lynn.

It is one of the few -count with one hand's fingers few- love triangles I've ever enjoyed, and my favorite part of that entire universe and story. So as soon as I saw Roth's name on the roster, I knew this was going to be on my TBR list.

If that kind of uniqueness is what I can expect from this anthology, it may as well be one of my most anticipated reads for next year.


message 16: by Nanni (new)

Nanni Clover Leila wrote: "The only love triangle that I’ve encountered in YA that was done well was Tessa, Will and Jem in The Infernal Devices"
This is definitely my favourite one!


message 17: by Pradeep.Ogen (new)

Pradeep.Ogen This is my Favorite book,


message 18: by Escale (new)

Escale Solutions I love the Love Triangle trope. Life is like that, choices that aren’t easy it even good. But it is enjoyable for me to read

-- Escale Solutions
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