The Problem With Love Triangles in YA

by Roughsketcho, Fanpop

Dimitri, Rose, Adrian

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and of course there are SO many articles about this topic I hesitate to throw in my own two cents. But after reading three love-triangle-heavy series (“Unravel Me,” “Clockwork Princess,” “Vampire Academy”) in the last month, I couldn’t bite my tongue any more. Love triangles in YA can be fantastically written, well developed and seamlessly resolved, but more likely than not they’re excruciating and sometimes they even make you lose all sympathy for the protagonist, figuratively (or literally) curse the author, want to throw the book across the room, or yell into a pillow in frustration.

For all of those reasons, I am infinitely more interested in books with a singular love story like “Eleanor and Park,” “Divergent,”  “Graceling,” “The Scorpio Races,” Melina Marchetta’s and Gayle Forman’s books, etc. etc. etc. than in books with an overarching love triangle. I don’t mind when there’s an occasional other person who flirts or is interested in half of the central romance or even existing or soon-to-be ex girlfriends or boyfriends like in Stephanie Perkins’ books, but the drawn-out “Who will she end up with?” stories kill me a little bit.

There are definitely exceptions. I think Cassandra Clare handles love triangles incredibly well (and I realize Diana and I may be two of the few people who actually loved the way she handled the Will-Tessa-Jem storyline in “Clockwork Princess”). I actually loved the brothers in Jenny Han‘s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” trilogy and had a soft spot for both Peeta and Gale in Suzanne Collins‘ dystopian epic “The Hunger Games.” But there are a few love triangle tropes I seriously have trouble with, so bear with me as I share them.

1. The Evil Guy=Hot, the Nice Guy=Boring: It bugs me when we’re supposed to forgive and forget that one of the characters in a love triangle has done seriously evil things just because he’s hot and is a good kisser. And I don’t even mean in the distant past; I mean TO the protagonist and those she loves. Sorry, but I’m not going to forget a series of maniacal and bloodthirsty acts until you do something to truly redeem yourself. Something MORE than give the protagonist a steamy makeout session.

2. Killing Off One Guy: So you know this scenario, right? Both guys have their pros and cons, and you sort of know who she will end up with, but you still care about the other guy. You have no idea how the author is going to resolve the situation, and then POOF! one guy dies. Um, what? And yeah, maybe there are other reasons that the guy died that are separate from the love triangle, but to me, that’s a cheap, cheap way to end a love triangle. I’d rather read an uncomfortable confrontation between the protagonist and the “other” guy than have one guy die.

3. The Guys HATE Each Other: I know this is strange, but I actually prefer when the two guys have a begrudging respect for each other, like Peeta and Gale did. I’m not saying they have to be blood brothers (although that’s what makes “The Infernal Devices” so unique) or even biological brothers (although that’s what made it so possible for Jeremiah and Conrad to keep loving each other after Belly “chose”), but it’s a lot better (in my opinion) when there’s jealous and hurt (obviously!) but not “I want to kill the other guy” repulsion. It’s much more interesting (and substantive) when the guys (I keep saying guys, because there are so few love triangles with two girls and one guy!) can see why the girl would have feelings for the other guy.

4. Back to Back Close Encounters: This is more about the protagonist than the guys. It bothers me when the girl kisses one guy and then within hours kisses the other guy. I’m all for exploring the feelings that pull you toward one of the characters over the other, but is it really necessary to make out with both guys (or even sleep with one and then kiss the other) in such a short timespan? Not cool, girls.

So what love triangles have you loved or hated? Which authors do it right, and which ones make you want to fling the book across the room?

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  1. Great post!! I know love triangles can be soooo touchy and I totally agree — Some are done well and some just… aren’t.
    I loved Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series right off the bat, but I was actually really upset with the introduction of that love triangle. I fell in love with Alex in Delirium and then he was absent ALL of Pandemonium… So, half the reason I loved book one was POOF! Gone. Then once we get to Requiem, it’s a battle of the boys and it turned Alex bitter which I was sooooo upset with. He was totally the opposite of what I loved so much in the first book. Sure, that may be something that’s realistic and how one would act in real life, but it kind of ruined the romance part of that series for me.

    Hmmm a love triangle that I liked… Okay, actually? The love triangle that I really liked was Twilight. She was caught between two boys and although she didn’t actually have ROMANTIC feelings for Jacob (maybe nullifying it as a “true” love triangle), she deeply cared for both guys. I really liked that she WASN’T trying to date both and that she had such a great friendship with Jacob. Thee guys did hate each other for a long time, but when it came down to it, they did respect each other and managed to work together in the end. The way the triangle issue was resolved was a bit odd, of course, but I still liked how that one played out throughout the series.

    • I loved Jacob; he was my favorite character in those books, because he seemed REAL, like an actual 16-year-old boy who realizes he has paranormal abilities. He was a great foil to Edward, and I liked that they brought out a very different side to Bella. And they did come to respect each other as each book progressed; and of course, by the end they had a pseudo father/son dynamic too. “My brother, my son” :-)

      • Completely agree with both of you about Edward and Jacob in TWILIGHT. And, most importantly, they each represented a choice Bella could make about the type of life she wanted to lead. Just like Peeta and Gale did for Katniss, or the two guys in FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH.

  2. I am not opposed to all love triangle situations, but I certainly have had my fill for awhile. Inevitably, I end up really disliking one of them. Sometimes it is because the author wants to start setting up the choice (like with Gale), or I just start seeing one of them as whiny or needy or some other trait that I don’t love (like Julian from Delirium).

    I agree that Clare handled the ending of the Jem/Will/Tessa triangle effectively and creatively, but from the middle of the second book right up until the epilogue, I no longer liked Jem, and he’s not a character you are supposed to have bad feelings for. I just wanted him to get out of the way of Will and Tessa. And this was a triangle that was handled WELL.

    They can be done well. A lot of times, though, they just feel like a cheap way to insert tension. Give me one really well done relationship and I will usually be much happier.

    • Oh, I agree that they’re not always bad; I think when done well, as you say, they can be awfully delicious. But when they go wrong, it’s infuriating ;-) I wanted Tessa with Will, but I loved Jem and wished him so much happiness too. I especially loved that Will loved Jem.

  3. I don’t so much like love triangles when the guys (or girls) are complete opposites. I mean, are girls really that fickle? “Oh, well I really love how much of a bad, dangerous boy X is. But I also love that Y is so sweet and sensitive.” Give me a break. I think the triangles that I love most are the ones where the boys are similar, or not SO different that they’re at complete ends of the spectrum. To me, that makes the tension better.

    But overall… I don’t really like triangles. I think at one time maybe I didn’t mind them, but they’re such a cop out. Like when does it really happen that you have 2 boys (or girls) wanting you and you just can’t choose? And why would that boy (or girl) want that girl (or boy) if she’s thinking about someone else? It says way too much about both parties.

    I’ve gotten to where I really do prefer a one on one situation, letting ONE relationship develop and seeing the challenges it faces… not where a person is faced with two separate relationships and they must choose. That’s old and tired and blah.

    I also had no idea I felt so passionately about this subject. haha! Great post; love that you handled a touchy subject for some of us! :)

    • Like I said, I’m not going to NOT read a book if there’s a love triangle; I just think it’s a skill not all authors possess, and I especially think it’s too much of a crutch for YA authors/books. Give me ONE couple with real tension, either internal or external, and that always seems so much more fulfilling.

  4. I tend to like love triangles where I have already picked a side. For instance: Unravel Me- who cares about Adam, it’s Juliette and Warner all the way or The Elite- Aspen who? Prince Maxon and America, yes! If I haven’t picked a side it tends to annoy me more. Go figure..

  5. The love triangle that I absolutely detested would have to be from Tehereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. Good god, that book was awful.. and not just because of the love triangle too. It’s entire “romance” felt so forced and stilted. The worst part was that I didn’t even have to read the succeeding books to know that, at some point, Juliette would be torn between two lovers. I knew that the moment Juliette described Warner, the psycho enemy, as handsome that among the book’s litany of suck it would have a love triangle too.

    • Preaching to the choir, sister! I HATED the third book so much I had to stop reading it — which I almost never, ever do. I can’t stand when an author rewrites history and basically negates her earlier books in order to force readers to agree with her main character’s choices. I pretty much hated the way every character (even beloved Kenji) acted in the third book (or what I read of it), so I had to give it up. Lovely author in person, but I don’t think her books are for me.

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