The Love Triangle in Young Adult Literature

This month’s post was submitted by Courtney Saldana, teen librarian at the Ovitt Family Community Library in Ontario.

It’s a well worn trope now: the completely normal (although absolutely fascinating) girl must choose between two very different boys who are both madly in love with her for unknown reasons. Is this ringing a bell yet? The gentlemen in question are always polar opposites. First, we have the gentle, mysterious and oh so classically handsome pick. He is generally first on the scene. You can expect him to perform some life saving measure on swoon worthy girl before the plot picks up too much. Enter boy #2. In stark contrast, this character will be attractive in a much different fashion. Blonde hair v. Black hair. Blue eyes v. Brown eyes. Vampire v. Werewolf. : ). Boy #2’s startling honesty and openness are a foil to the mystery that surrounds our first gentlemen. And when completely boring, but absolutely captivating girl is pushed to choose between the two – good ol’ teen, drama ensues.

So, what’s with the triangle that seems to have taken over young adult literature in recent years? It’s unfair to pin Stephanie Meyer with the full responsibility of this new feature. After all, love triangles have existed since Cathy and Heathcliff. And yet, there is no denying the spate of books featuring the now quite common triangle. And don’t be mistaken, this is not just a feature of the, also über popular, paranormal titles like Fallen by Lauren Kate and Nightshade by Andrea Cremer. These triangles can be found in realistic fiction like The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson and dystopian titles such as Matched by Ally Condie and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

So, what gives? Are we to believe that young adult authors are attempting to reveal a universal teen truth? Do all teens experience some sort of triangle? Or, do all teens simply want to think that a triangle is possible? Quite possibly, it is the choice itself that attracts such a keen readership. After all, the choice is always dangerously poised between danger and safety. Bella always knew Jacob was safer choice than Edward; choosing Edward literally kills her. Ultimately, all these titles position the reader to ask themselves, “who would you choose?” and perhaps more importantly, “what does that choice say about you?”

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