People love to disparage young adult fiction. YA is the new kickball for the literary establishment, and one of the most common remarks I see about YA novels is this: “The book is well written enough, but of course there’s the obligatory romantic triangle…” Cue the literary eye roll. Oh those young adult authors! So formulaic! So unimaginative!
And critically acclaimed, (very often) with more vigorous sales than any other genre, and by the way, more movie deals too.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s acknowledge that not all best selling YA novels have romantic triangles. The Fault in our Stars by John Green, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell all feature straight forward love stories. I’ll point out, though, that the main focus of all these stories is the relationship between the two love interests. Everybody loves a good love story, and considering how immensely difficult it is to write one, these authors deserve every bit of success they’ve seen. (I salute you!)
But the trend is real. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the Sky Chasers Trilogy by yours truly all feature romantic triangles, and that’s because romantic triangles work. Here is why:
Romantic triangles have been a part of literature since time immemorial. Helen of Troy, Menelaus, and Paris in The Iliad might be the first. More examples include Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak… the list goes on. This is an illustrious tradition to participate in.
There aren’t a lot of ways to instill tension into a romantic sub-plot. There’s the classic Taming of the Shrew device, which has the two romantic leads loathing each other at first, then falling in love. There’s the trope of two lovers torn apart by society or fate, as in Romeo and Juliet. And then there’s the classic love triangle, with messy feelings all over the place, and lots of opportunity for conflict. If any of you can think of a new way to lend tension to a romantic plot, say so in the comments so I can write it. Please.
Romantic triangles happen in real life, all the time, and part of a novelist’s job is to write about real life. I’ve been in a few romantic triangles myself, more often as one of two girls lusting after the same guy, but a couple times as one girl with two guys vying for my attention. (Ah! Those college days!) Believe me, romantic triangles are a lot more fun to read about than they are to experience.
The focus of my Sky Chasers series really isn’t love. My books are an examination of the way in which ideology, both religious and secular, can shape political discourse, the manufacturing of power, and resulting societal problems. My female protagonist is poised between two boys who represent different philosophies: Seth is the pragmatic, apolitical survivor, and Kieran is the idealistic, ambitious leader. Waverly represents the future in my books, and her choice will, in a very real way, shape the future world she is helping to create.
In the final analysis, what matters isn’t which device an author uses to develop tension in a romance. What matters is if it’s well written. The Sky Chasers has been recognized as an exceptionally good dystopian series by reviewers such as School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, and even by mainstream commentators from People Magazine, Seventeen, and USA Today. But every reader must decide for herself. If you read my series, I’d love to hear from you about it! But what I care even more about is that young adults keep reading, whatever you want, no matter what the stuffy literati say about your choice of material.
You have good taste, kids. And in case you haven’t noticed, you are leading the publishing industry around by the nose. Good job.