Last week I was reminded of the horrific love triangle trope in young-adult novels when my friend brought up the “Shatter Me” series in our book club. She was a bit too excited, almost morbidly so, to share the gory details: “…and here’s the kicker, Adam and Warner are the only people that are able to touch her. Like, of course, it’s the love interests that are the kryptonite to her ‘super-power.’” Tahereh Mafi’s “Shatter Me” follows Juliette, a teenage girl who has a “fatal touch.” That is, after Juliette touches someone, they die. At the start of the novel, she’s locked up in a cell and hasn’t experienced human touch in years … until Adam. “Shatter Me” screams “young-adult dystopia” with the two male leads following the love triangle trope to a T. Adam, the nice one, and Warner, the bad boy/villain/anti-hero. After six sequels, guess which one Juliette ends up with (cue the eye-roll and yawn).
Even though I’ve never read “Shatter Me,” it feels like I have. The thought of love triangles triggers the sensation of cockroaches crawling under my skin. With a physical revulsion, I’m yanked back in time to 5th grade, where I read about my first love triangle ever: “Twilight.” It’s true. I ate up the “Twilight” series like a vampire after a weekend-long fast from blood. I was unabashedly Team Edward, and I felt betrayed when Bella swayed to Jacob in “New Moon.” I wanted to wallow in a ball, shake Bella out of her werewolf induced spell and tell her “Edward is the love of your life!”
Take my aforementioned turbulent emotions and apply them to any of the following series: “The Mortal Instruments,” “The Infernal Devices” (Side note — this series has unequivocally deterred me from love triangles forever. Tessa, you can’t have your cake and eat it too!), “The Hunger Games,” “Vampire Academy,” “The Selection.” It’s always the mean playboy with the traumatic past versus the nice, bland guy who is typically best friends with our protagonist. With few exceptions (cough, “The Hunger Games”), the nice guys finish last.
Now we return to the age-old question: If love triangles are so annoying, then why are they so popular? Certainly, my relationship with literature would be so much more stress-free if not for the dreaded love triangle. It’s an idea I’ve ruminated on quite extensively in my brief foray back into the young-adult literature world. Why introduce a new potential love interest when it’s (mostly) clear who the protagonist will end up with? Then it hit me — I wouldn’t be reading these stories in the first place if it weren’t for their love triangles (my masochist tendencies notwithstanding of course).
Hear me out, these books can’t stand on their own without the love triangle. The love triangle serves to hide the nonexistent plot and one-dimensional characters by upping the tension. If young-adult novels were mysteries, the love triangles would be the equivalent of whodunit plot-lines. The thing that’s driving the readers to finish X amount of sequels to these novels is the love triangle. Imagine novels like “Shatter Me,” “The Selection” or “Twilight” without the love triangle. It’s a stagnant, mushy book — the literary version of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where’s the flavor? It’s that elusive uncertainty of “will they or won’t they?” that motivates me to pick up the 1000-page hardcover copy of “Breaking Dawn,” fully aware I’m not cracking that mammoth of a book to resolve the conflict with the Volturi.
Despite my irritation, I sometimes need the spice of a love triangle in my life. With my (let’s be honest) absent love life, the drama of two men and one girl is alluring. Even without a plot, I’m flooded with a whirlwind of emotions: anger, angst, butterflies and relief. Let’s face it: love triangles sell for a reason.