Three Sides of a Heart Editor Natalie C. Parker Shares 5 Types of YA Love Triangles

The B&N Teen blog welcomes author Natalie C. Parker to the blog this week to talk triangle, twisty, sticky and swoonworthy! 

The love triangle in young adult fiction is unfairly maligned. I know, I know, those are fighting words, and I’m here for it. But this is a trope with so much passion to give! A trope that offers a complicated situation from the get go! That said, an author’s best argument is a story. Which is why I decided to join the debate by inviting a group of incredible authors to tackle the love triangle in an anthology called Three Sides of a Heart. Trust me when I tell you that the triangles contained in its pages encompass a galaxy of possibilities.

Love triangles happen. They happen in all kinds of fiction from Shakespeare to Star Wars. And people have capital ‘O’ Opinions about them ranging from extreme adoration of the trope to the polar opposite. I fall somewhere in the middle. Love triangles by themselves aren’t enough to make me pick up or put down a novel, but how they work in the story is another matter entirely. I like a triangle that changes the shape of the novel itself, one that adds a new dimension to the plot or the characters or both. If you’re like me and you enjoy exploring a trope, here’s a quick primer on a few different kinds of love triangles.

The Traditional Triangle: A story in which the main character is choosing between two other characters who are representative of some choice the main character is facing.

Example: Kashmir (m) – Nix (f) – Blake (m) in Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere
In Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere we have all the trappings of the Traditional Triangle, but that’s only the surface level of this particular triangle. Heilig takes the traditional out for a spin and the result is a beautiful exploration of desire and agency. Nix gives herself the room to explore two romantic possibilities, while never letting one or the other define who she is or who she wants to be. This is a triangle that centers Nix and never Nix-and-Kashmir or Nix-and-Blake.



The Plot Triangle: This is a love triangle that has a direct and tangible impact on the plot of the story. Without it, the story would happen in an entirely different way.

Example: Khaled (m) – Shazi (f) – Tariq (m) in Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn 
The Wrath and the Dawn is a pristine example of the Plot Triangle. This triangle threads tension through every single page of the novel without dominating the narrative. How? By being part of the political and mythological landscape. Ahdieh weaves this triangle into the beating heart of the narrative and she does so without bringing the three main characters onto the same page until the second half of the novel. It is a thing of beauty.



The Anti-Triangle: This is a triangle that resists the tension of the Traditional Triangle by removing our expectation of choice.

Example: June (f) – Enki (m) – Gil (m) in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince
My definition sounds horrendously academic, but Johnson’s triangle in The Summer Prince does exactly that. Two best friends fall in love with the same person (Enki) and they do so without devolving into jealousies or competition. This is a triangle that pulls you into a completely different set of expectations. It’s a story that acknowledges that love is as much about letting go as it is about holding on. This is a triangle that will leave you in tears. (And you won’t even be mad about it).



The Surprise Triangle: The triangle you don’t see coming!

Example: Rishi (f) – Alex (f) – Nova (m) in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost
I loved many things about Labyrinth Lost, but high on that list is how Córdova wields our romantic expectations and assumptions. Early in the novel, Córdova introduces a broody YA hero-type, playing into our expectation of Nova as Alex’s primary love interest. However, later in the novel (SPOILER), she executes a perfect one-eighty on the romance, shifting the friendship between Rishi and Alex toward something decidedly more romantic. This is a triangle that challenges you and then invites you along on a new path.



The Doomed Triangle: The triangle you can’t stop rooting for even though it appears doomed from every possible angle.

Example: Lada (f) – Mehmed (m) – Radu (m) in Kiersten White’s And I Darken
In this triangle, two siblings fall for the same boy. Not only that, but their lives depend on one another. This triangle intensifies the dangers surrounding each of the characters. Their romantic desires are frequently at odds with their political desires, and those points of conflict leave this story brimming with incredible tension. The stakes (that pun’s for you, White!) are high and someone is going to be disappointed in the end…but who?

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