The love triangle has become a staple in YA fiction. With fans choosing sides, making t-t-shirts, and writing all the fanfic, a good love triangle seems almost key to building up a fervor. However, is it really necessary? If we separate the stories by the gender of the protagonist, it would seem these love triangles only ever really ensnare female protagonists. The Hunger Games, Twilight and now The 5th Wave task the heroine with such a decision. And more often than not this love triangle is a symbol or something much bigger.
Harry Potter and The Maze Runner are the biggest YA phenomena lead by a male hero. While both include romance, neither Harry nor Thomas have their love lives featured very heavily. Harry’s journey spanned seven books and eight movies. Audiences were given ample time to get to know Harry and see him enter all kinds of situations. Thomas’s relationship with Teresa, while a part of the story, is more background than main plot. But when it comes to female lead stories, not only is the love triangle a very big deal, when the final choice is made, not only is the heroine choosing who she loves, but also she’s also making a huge lifestyle choice.
[bctt tweet=”The romance is more effect than cause, but it doesn’t have to be around every time.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Katniss and Bella, when deciding on Peeta and Edward, respectfully, have chosen how they will live their life for the foreseeable future. For Katniss, from a literary point of view, Gale symbolizes the new government and Peeta is life under the radar outside of politics. Bella has to become an immortal vampire in order be with Edward. And it doesn’t stop there. In Suzanne Young’s The Program, Sloane’s choices in boy represent resisting the inhumane treatment that the program is invoking or stepping away and living a less complex life, Young’s Hotel Ruby is a literal life or death decision, and The Chemical Garden Series by Lauren DeStefano is a gilded prison or a life on the run. And now The 5th Wave, newly released, has Cassie choosing between Evan Walker and Ben Parish. Symbols of her life before and after the alien attacks.
The idea that all of these heroines are having their future tied so closely to their love interests time and time again should be of slight concern. Situations are being created in these stories where there is a clearly defined path the protagonist is going to follow and the end results is falling in love. The romance isn’t the reason she survived all the elements or kicked so much ass or was all around amazing. It’s subtler than that. The romance is more effect than cause, but it doesn’t have to be around every time. This idea can be found in most every genre, not just YA and its subtly makes it seem less offensive. However, there needs to be even more of a shift in how, especially when targeting younger crowds, we portray our female YA characters. A little more variety wouldn’t be so bad, right?