The Triangular Tragedy of YA Fiction

Any reader will be hardpressed to find a novel with a female protagonist whose romantic relationship doesn’t overflow the entire plot.  Authors embrace this formula for heartbreak and success in a variety of ways:  Anita Blake author Laurell K. Hamilton overthrew her supernatural plot of necromancy and sleuthing to highlight Anita’s relations as the only plot; The Selection‘s Kiera Cass made the plot a season of popular television show, The Bachelor.  In the case of Katniss Everdeen, author Suzanne Collins writes her protagonist as a person who both calculates the potential relationships as well as pushing them aside as momentarily distracting and unimportant.  Collins gets kudos from me on that one, because it’s nice to imagine Katniss rolling her eyes.  Still, no matter how you look at it, love triangles have taken over fiction.

Where did this trend begin?  While it’s easy to look back and point fingers at Twilight‘s Edward-Bella-Jacob or Harry’s Potter‘s Harry-Hermione-Ron, a love triangle as a plot device has been around for much longer than that.  Although much more interpretive and subtle, love traingles can be identified in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo  and The Three Musketeers and even in the classic love story, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  Love triangles even fall into the oral tradition, most famous of which must be King Arthur, Queen Gweniviere, and Sir Lancelot.  It is true that with the popular successes of J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, and Suzanne Collins, this plot device has come into the spotlight, but it should be understood that the romantic tension of a love triangle is an old tradition.

I recently came across an article written in 2013 by Lauren Slavin for Feminspire.com arguing that these overblown love triangle are hurting teen readers, stating that it isn’t the love triangles that are the problem, but the men in them are, and they’re creating a negative expectation for young women and their sexuality, as well as their expectations of their youthful relationships.  Specifically, she says, “reading book after book where competition over affections is seen as romantic could create a generation of young women who aspire for a tug-of-war relationship, which ends in the “friend-zoming” of one potential paramour,” and goes on to add, “Feminists cringe over the concept that a woman owes someone sex if that someone has romantic feelings for them– even romantic feelings that aren’t returned.”  She speaks about how these written relationships create a social view which leads to bullying and slut-shaming of real, feeling young women.  Her article, although a little wandering, makes some interesting points about the way teenagers take stories very much to heart, and a repeated message of the internalizing of literature and our human habit of attempting to replay it in our real lives.

I don’t want to take a feminist stance about the way these stories affect young women.  I don’t want to defend the writers and characters in their handling of these tricky situations of the heart.  I do, however think it is important to acknowledge how quickly the Love Triangle is becoming a required feature in the world of YA Fiction and the reasons why it is there….

Do we do it for the angst?  For the popularity?  I know that many young girls – wish that they might – do not have two debonair suitors at their beck and call.  Seeing these things reflected as normal in literature, but not appearing in their real lives could certainly be detrimental to self-esteem.

However, there is also the possibility that we are simply making a mountain out of a molehill.

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