There are few things in young adult literature more divisive than the love triangle, seen by some as overdone, tired, or underwhelming. Twilight, which helped spark the rise of both YA and paranormal romance, catapulted the trope into visibility with the help of a frenzied fandom wearing #teamedward or #teamjacob T-shirts. Other bestsellers including the Selection, Shatter Me, and Infernal Devices series all employed the love triangle, inspiring passionate fanbases who argued over love interests and theorized about which couples were endgame. Though love triangles aren’t exclusive to YA, their use in the category seems to receive more scorn than adult books and TV shows do.
Just like any trope, the love triangle shows up a lot. And when something is used frequently, critical voices begin to nitpick—if a common theme is used without bringing something extraordinary or new to the table, what’s the point? The thing is, YA is written for teens. Even if an adult has read a million books featuring a love triangle, something that is the 1,000,001st book on their list might be the first book on a teen’s. Not only that, but if one determines that a trope is overused before marginalized voices are able to have starring roles within them, it’s no wonder that one begins to think all books featuring the trope look the same. Here are five books with well done, unique love triangles that reinvent the trope.
The Love Interest, by Cale Dietrich
In a world where teen spies are cultivated by a secret organization, teens with powerful destinies are assigned two of those spies, each to act as one possible Love Interest. Caden is a Nice, the typical boy next door, and Dylan is a Bad, the broody mcbroodypants that’s such a staple in the YA iteration of the love triangle trope. Instead of the classic “main character has two love interests and must pick between them,” this book features two love interests competing for the same girl…and falling for each other instead.
Little & Lion, by Brandy Colbert
When Suzette returns home from boarding school after a year away, it’s after a realization about herself—namely, she’s discovered her bisexuality. Complicating her return is the fact that before Suzette went away to school, her brother Lionel was diagnosed as bipolar. And now, she and Lionel find themselves crushing on the same miraculous girl.
Rule, by Ellen Goodlett
After the death of the heir, three illegitimate daughters of a dying king are brought to the palace to see if one of them might be fit to rule. One has spent her life as a lady’s maid, one grew up surrounded by rebels, and one has lived most of her life as a part of a group of travelers. Matters become complicated when the king’s young wife (unwillingly wed to him through an arranged marriage) and one of the girls begin falling for each other.
From Twinkle, With Love, by Sandhya Menon
Twinkle is an aspiring filmmaker who has crushed on the same guy, Neil, forever. And when Neil’s film geek brother, Sahil, approaches her about a film project, she sees it as a way to accomplish two goals at once: 1. fulfill her filmmaking dreams and 2. get closer to Neil. When she starts getting messages from a mysterious “N,” instinct leads her to believe it’s Neil sending the messages. But in the process of making her film, she has found herself falling for dorky Sahil…
Odd One Out, by Nic Stone
This brings me to the newest fulfillment of the classic trope—Nic Stone’s sophomore book, Odd One Out. Featuring three main characters, each of whom has a possible love interest in the other two, Odd One Out brings a beautiful intersectionality to a traditionally white and heteronormative motif. Coop and Jupe are best friends and next-door neighbors, and Coop would be even more in love with Jupe if she didn’t self-identify as gay. When Rae moves to town, both Coop and Jupe acknowledge their crushes on her to each other—and Rae is unsure which of the two she has a crush on (maybe it’s both?). As Jupe’s feelings for Coop morph into something new, the three fall into a very messy love triangle that is bound to cause some heartache. Stone has presented one of the most authentic, innovative love triangles YA has ever seen. Three teens of color (Coop is black, Jupe is black/Latinx, and Rae is white/Chinese-Jamaican), two of whom are queer, are long-overdue leads in this miraculous story about love, friendship, and the sheer resilience of the teen heart.