Friday, May 25, 2012

The Power of the Triangle (in YA Fiction)

I don't steal pics with watermarks, nooooo.
Sometimes, there are days when I just want to read a silly book. I genuinely hope you know what I mean. When I want to walk to the library, or a bookstore, or just my own obscenely over-stocked shelves and pluck out a story that will whisk me off to foreign lands, tell me about great love and triumph over oppressive odds, and is well below my reading level.

I read a lot of young adult fantasy fiction.

It's weird because the books clearly aren't written with me in mind, but it's cool because sometimes the YA novels are doing the more interesting, innovative things in storytelling. Sometimes.

But I'd like to talk about a trope that I've seen cropping up more and more lately, and what I think it might mean psychologically for young girls. Because that's who most YA fiction is geared towards. Girls.

Boys get the movies (Transformers, Battleship, Men in Black), but girls are the target audience for books. I could go into why, but I don't really know. Society has weird expectations of our genders, and one of them appears to be that boys like movies and girls like books. Not necessarily true, but not our current issue.

It's rather good.
A lot of the books I've been reading lately have featured a strong female heroine of vaguely teenage years, caught up in either a dystopian world or a supernatural battle, and forced to choose between two awesome guys who both want her to be theirs.

Katniss, from Hunger Games, is the example most obviously on most people's minds, and they're right. She's competent, cool, and fully able to take care of herself, yet she's torn between the boy she's known all her life and the boy who keeps surprising her. Katniss' choice between the two of them shows us as much about her character as it does about our shifting ideas of what is desirable in men.

Invariably in these love triangles, the girl must choose between the slightly more mysterious, brooding and slightly dangerous man (Edward from Twilight, Ky from Matched, etc) and the more traditional good-guy who she's been friends with for ages (Jacob from Twilight, Xander from Matched, etc). What makes it really interesting, though, is that the men these girls choose are not the masculine, strong, friend-types. They choose the mysterious loners.

Why?

Some people have decried this movement in fiction as step backwards for women, citing the Bella/Edward relationship as a sign of seriously misaligned values.

Do not want.
While I don't really disagree with them on that one (he's creepy, she's codependent, it's weird), I do recognize that this isn't the problem we make it out to be. Girls seem to be drawn to boys who are more sensitive and soulful, rather than traditionally masculine.

Isn't that...good?

If teenage girls are attracted to boys who are in touch with their emotions and capable of speaking them clearly and cogently to the women they love, as Peeta does many times, or Ky, or even Edward (but seriously, screw that guy), shouldn't we encourage that behavior? We want young girls to understand that their feelings are valuable. No, they shouldn't be taken in by them entirely, but the desire for a mate who values emotion is a worthy one. We should applaud it.

And the rejection of the brawny friends-from-birth doesn't strike me as a terrifying outbreak of "friend-zoning", but rather an understanding that friend-love is not the same as romantic-love, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Young Adult novels, keep doing what you're doing, showing young girls that it's okay to want a mate who speaks their feelings, and that it's even better to be a girl who saves the world.

I'm just saying. The third one comes out in November. You have time to catch up.

3 comments:

  1. Have you read the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce? It was written in the 1980s, but it's interesting to think about in terms of its love-triangleness.

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    1. You are very accurately anticipating me here! I've just finished reading the first book in the quartet, and as soon as I get my hands on the rest of them, I'm going to dive into those two.

      Though now you've got me super curious about who the love-triangle is.

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