Young Adult books are a genre that is sometimes overlooked by bookstores, by readers, and by criticists. However, people seem to misunderstand the influcence they have on readers. And there is one phenomenon that appears in YA books more than any other: the love triangle.
Romeo and Juliet on the balcony
Try to go back to your teenage years (even if you are trying to forget them) and maybe you remember how much books could influence you. Well, that influence has only increased with the invention of the love triangle, and the connected idea that having a relationship is extremely important.
Let’s start at the beginning, because I’m talking about love triangles as if they are something new. Guess what? They are not… Even the classic Wuthering Height has a love triangle in it. And probably the most well known triangle at the moment are those from Twilight and The Hunger Games.
So what exactly is a ‘love triangle’? A love triangle is a relationship, often romantic but not necessarily, involving three people. The concept implies some sort of relationship between all three people involved. However, in books it is more often like this:
While I can’t imagine being part in such a complicated mess, I got a lot of hits when I googled the concept. Several of them were websites on how to deal with being stuck in a triangle yourself… Do people really get tangled in such things, or do they just think they do? Because a lot of young adults, especially girls, believe a love triangle is the best thing that can happen to you. And this can be traced back to popular YA-fiction, in which this actually happens.
Reality vs. fiction
While creating a love triangle in a story is easy, it is not very realistic. I mean, how often do you see guys really fighting over a girl, or girls really clawing each others eyes out for a guy? I’ve seen girls become total bitches towards each other, but that could have had many reasons. Some writers will argue that ‘it just happened’, an argument I could see as relevant if I did not write a lot myself and I know that you can always sort such messes out before they happen!
Realism vs. fiction on the concept of relationships is an issue when it comes to YA-fiction, according to professor Maria Nikolajeva. For example, there is the much debated Twilight saga. I admit that I loved the books, but in my defence: I was 14! However, when I reread them recently, I felt chills going down my spine (and not the good kind). The most important aspect of the book is the love triangle of Bella, Edward, and Jacob. When they are seperated, Bella loses all personality as if she is nobody without a man by her side. Nikolajeva states that Bella is a very dark personification of the independent and personal development of young women, and I must agree with her. According to the professor, this lack of a personal character could have bad influence on the young readers if they identify themselves with the characters in the book. If the character has to dedicate her life to having a relationship, so must the reader. It is a grim view but it might have some truth.
The whole ‘identifying yourself with a character of the book’ is not as strange as it sounds. Brainresearch done by Washington University shows that when reading about certain actions, parts of the brain are activated. And while your brain is registering, your mind does the rest. Ohio State University conducted a psychological study about copying-behaviour. The result? Psychologist discovered that people are prone to adopt the behaviour of characters they identify strongly with. This is mostly done subconsciously, meaning that you don’t even know that you are copying a fictional character!
That last thing can be dangerous, as this would mean that you are not even aware of the fact you change while reading.
So back to the concept of the love triangle. You read a book (I will not name names!), in which the main character has people swooning all over him/her. Suddenly, it seems very normal that that would happen to you to. And when it doesn’t, you become depressed? Don’t go all Romeo and Juliet on us!
While this whole concept is not normal at all, it does happen from time to time. Because of this, a lot of writers argue that a story should reflect parts of the real human experience, and that love triangles should not be taken so lightly in fiction. Love stories should not be banned, as they can spice up a book, but they should be more realistic. They should also not be banned as they are, in basic, not dangerous at all. The tricky part is to not become too involved, to keep your own identity and just enjoy the story instead of building your own identity around it. Especially young readers are vulnerable to this idea.
So, are teenage-readers really that easily influenced by books? And are love triangles reason for concern? Love triangles in YA-fiction, are in basic completely harmless (although very, very annoying). However, there is a catch based on the involvement of yourself in the story. Of course you can be sad if something happened to your favorite character, but becoming entirely depressed about it is something COMPLETELY different! Keep in mind that it is just a book, and that fictional characters are rarely limited by the real world. If they want to grow wings and fly, they can. But last time I checked, such things do not happen in real life. So the concept of only being someone when you have a relationship, is also just nog part of daily life. Remember that!