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On Love Triangles and Fictional Gal Pals

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Nov. 16th, 2013 | 04:30 pm

I recently decided to have another go at reading some YA paranormal romance. There's so much of it, and it's so popular, that I thought there must be more of it I would like than I have thus far discovered. I do have luck sometimes - I enjoyed Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, and I loved the sequel, Magic Under Stone. (I even drew fanart of the main characters - click the image twice to get the full size.) But otherwise, I've been largely unimpressed by most of the YA paranormal romance I've read, despite having the book suggestions of my coworker, who has read approximately every YA paranormal romance ever written.

This does relate to the title of the post! One thing I frequently notice in paranormal romance is that the protagonist either has no female friends or has female friends who are so awful that I wish the author had left them out. I get it: an intense romance (as these romances typically are) plus the worldbuilding required for the paranormal stuff takes a lot of space in a book. Most of the character development goes into the protagonist and the love interest. Oh, and maybe another love interest to form the third point of your standard-issue love triangle.




As an aside, some YA authors' views on love triangles were recently compiled and discussed here. I generally fall into the "not a fan" category, though partly because I'm bitter that the guy I like is never the one the girl chooses. What's wrong with a guy who's sweet and not mysterious and arrogant? My favorite views presented here for and against love triangles:

Speaking for the prosecution, Gayle Forman, who has a lot to say on the topic, but I especially like this bit: "When you fall in love, you know who you love." She admits that love triangles are a good way to build tension, but doesn't think they are realistic.

Speaking for the defense, Carrie Ryan: "To me, a love triangle done right isn't about a female character’s affections bouncing back and forth between two men, it's about her internal struggle within herself as she figures out who she wants to be and what's important to her." So, it's not about choosing who you want to be with, it's about choosing who you want to be.




Anyway, back to the female friends of these triangulatin' fiends. (Or fiend-daters, as the case sometimes is.) They're often one-dimensional, largely due to how little page time they receive. They're frequently unaware of the whole paranormal thing going on around their friends, which typically relegates them to even less story time. Indeed, they often serve little purpose aside from providing a chorus of praise for the main love interest's hotness.

What really burns my cookies is when the female protagonist has friends who have, and encourage the protagonist to have, an unhealthy take on relationships. In one book I recently read, the girl was avoiding the supernatural guy. She was highly vocal about being uninterested in him. In fact, he seriously scared her! Yet her crowd of girlfriends, none of whom was differentiated enough for me to remember any names, constantly pushed her at him because he was (A) hot, and (B) interested in her. They invited the guy to eat lunch at their table, told the girl she was crazy for rejecting him, and even told the guy - in front of the girl! - "don't worry, we'll help you wear her down." They just met this guy! He makes their friend uncomfortable, and not in a "strange new feelings awakening" way. Taking his side and pushing her to give him a chance is rotten friend behavior!

This isn't the only time I've seen this from female supporting characters. In another paranormal romance, the protagonist's mother asks why she won't go ahead and date the arrogant, pushy vampire who's pursuing her. After all, Mommy Dearest reasons, "he is attractive." Then there's my least favorite line from a paranormal romance that I've read so far: in response to Protagonist Girl asking whether Mysterious Paranormal Guy is always such a jerk, a girl who's friends with Mysterious Paranormal Guy says yes, he is, "But that's what makes him so damn sexy." NO! No! Bad friends and relations!

Now, to draw out some kind of lesson that will make this a constructive post rather than just a rant. I guess what I'd say is, make the protagonist's friends be her friends. Not cheerleaders for the romantic interest. Make them take, or at least attempt to understand, her side. If possible, it's nice for the protagonist to have at least one friend who knows about the paranormal stuff, whether because she discovered it (think Willow from Buffy) or because she was part of the paranormal scene all along. Otherwise, their relationship is going to have a lot of holes and dishonesty. Or, more typically, the friend will simply be phased out of the book as the paranormal stuff and the romance get more important.

While I don't want to name names with the books that made me mad, I will mention one YA paranormal romance that I think did a pretty good job with the female-friend thing: Warped by Maurissa Guibord. Protagonist Tessa has a close friend, Opal. When weird stuff starts happening to Tessa, she (here's a novel idea) tells Opal about it. Opal thinks she's crazy or joking at first, but is willing to at least humor her. So when fantastical things start happening, Opal realizes that Tessa was right - and becomes someone who can help out and support Tessa in the midst of freaky unicorn time-travel adventures.

Note: In theory, a platonic male friend could fill this role, but I have never ever ever seen this happen in a YA paranormal romance. The protagonist's "platonic" male friend always turns out to be in love with her and become the third (and losing) point on the love triangle.

Any other examples of YA paranormal that doesn't include friend fail? Other ideas about what makes or breaks a good gal pal in the genre?

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Comments {7}

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from: magic_7_words
date: Nov. 16th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I didn't completely loathe Twilight when I read it, much as I'd like to pretend otherwise. But the biggest turnoff for me in that book (even moreso than the unequal dynamic between Bella and Edward, because I was prepared for that one) was Bella's arrogant attitude toward her classmates. As I recall, every non-Cullen she met at school (at least in the first book) was dismissed as boring, shallow, or otherwise unworthy of respect by the end of her first day. I get that if you're dating a vampire then ordinary people might seem a bit boring, but she hadn't even met the vampire yet!

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Nov. 21st, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
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So true! Have you watched the "Alex Reads Twilight" videos on YouTube? Sheer brilliance, frosted with an awesome English accent. And he does talk (hilariously) about how Bella treats her human classmates, which is insufferable. Especially when you consider how nice most of them are to her!

Edited at 2014-03-20 06:50 pm (UTC)

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Nov. 21st, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
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I told my coworker, the paranormal YA romance expert, that I wanted to read more of them with non-arrogant love interests. She said doubtfully, "The arrogant guy is kind of a staple of the genre . . ."

It's funny, because I like a lot of contemporary YA romance. These frequently feature sweet, equal relationships between people who get to know each other and have great chemistry. But it's like as soon as someone is a werewolf or a demon hunter or whatever, they can't have those nice personalities and relationships anymore.

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Jackie

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from: fabulousfrock
date: Nov. 17th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC)
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Still delighted with your fan art!

I hate love triangles...maybe because I'm a very loyal person and I also usually have pretty gut feelings about whether I connect with a person or not, so I just don't identify with the entire scenario. When I have written a love triangle situation it is along the lines Jenn describes where the people are already in a relationship, the initial blush has worn off, and they are questioning whether this is REALLY the person for them. But this is rarely the situation described in paranormal YA...

One book that did have good female friends was Ruby Red. I haven't read the sequels but the first one is a lot of fun. That's another book where the friend is in on the paranormal happenings, and if I remember correctly is pretty down with the whole thing. And Dearly, Departed depicts female friends...though it's more of an offbeat steampunk than YA paranormal. This is really sad, I can barely think of any.

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Nov. 21st, 2013 08:47 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I'm glad you like the art.

I feel similarly about love triangles. I like how the love triangle expectation is subverted in Magic Under Stone, when Nimira writes back and forth with Hollin and has conflicting feelings about him, but not in a way that puts him in competition with Erris. It makes sense that Erris feels worried and jealous, but it also makes sense that Nim likes some of the things Hollin writes to her (and feels uncomfortable about others).

I haven't read Ruby Red, but it's popular at the library where I work. Maybe I'll give it a shot!

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