Argue that the love triangle in The Hunger Games was unnecessary (and I’ll most likely agree with you.) Guffaw at the tension, both “sexual” and aggravating, of Edward and Bella as he refuses to turn the one girl he loves into a vampire (and I’ll probably wince at the memory of the writing in these scenes.) But do not disclaim their success. These books are all members of The New York Times Bestsellers’ List for a reason and it has little to do with their contrived plots. Stephanie Meyers and other YA authors have continuously proven that an idea which involves one girl, in a vulnerable, desperate situation (where she happens to look like the pretty girl next door, but not a model), and two guys (bloodsuckers or tributes fighting for their lives) who love her, will, nine times out of ten, fly off the shelves.
Another such series that took the trend a bit too far was The Selection series by Kiera Cass. Starting off, the trilogy followed America Singer, a girl chosen as a contestant trying to “woo” the prince in a dystopian set up much like The Bachelor. This went on to become a saga with the fourth and fifth book being about America’s and her love interest’s daughter, only this time the daughter is the one playing the role of The Bachelorette.
Perhaps the saddest thing about these trilogies is the audience they are being marketed to. There was once a day where you could pick up a book, finish it, love it or hate it and wouldn’t feel compelled to want more. It was easy to move on to other books, other authors and you could appreciate different takes on certain genres or trends (vampires, fallen angels, dystopians, etc.)
But nowadays, for teens and even myself sometimes, when you buy the first in a series, regardless of your opinion about it, you feel required to buy its sequel, to give it a second chance. You think to yourself: maybe the writing has improved, maybe there’ll be some new explored concept that you never even thought could be possible, maybe, maybe you actually enjoy the love triangle. And both have happened (The Luxe saga and Unearthly trilogy are two that come immediately to mind), without diminishing the heroine as a weak and purposeless being who is only focused on love.
And before you blame the romance series in YA that aren’t so well known, realize even successful series have fallen into this trope while promoting their books and their adaptations, most recently Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. While each book could possibly stand alone, the reason so many viewers and readers keep being drawn to it is because it is promoted as a dystopian love story, when it is actually a heroine raising a rebellion and subsequently causing a class war.
So by this time we get it: it’s a commercialized market and sex sells. If that sex happens to occur after the city is burned down and split into sections where there is little to no means of survival, even better.
But what about the stand alone romances? The stories that happen outside of the fantasy, apocalyptic world? Have they all fallen astray…thrice? I am happy to say that there is still hope. John Green, a YA romance author, had two consecutive blockbuster hits with his books, The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, appearing on the big screen in the summers of 2014 and 2015. While the love stories were heart-wrenching, they also became best-sellers because of their relatable characters, their quotable lines, and the simplistic and sarcastic air that comes with the story-telling of John Green himself. Without being series, the books gained massive attention through word of mouth and were brought to the screen by popular demand simply because readers felt something in a single book alone. And isn’t that the point of reading? To have something resonate so strongly that you carry it with you even after you flip the final page?
Now I’m not saying all trilogies are bad, nor am I agreeing to stop reading series in the YA genre. I’m just begging for some fresh air. More stories like Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss “series.” While each story in the series (Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After) all tie in together, with the same cast of characters and at times, same setting, if one were to pick up Lola or Isla, they wouldn’t have to read Anna to get the idea. They could all work as stand-alone works. Just as John Green’s Alaska Young and Augustus Water’s don’t need follow up books to explain how Pudge and Hazel Grace moved on after everything.
Sometimes all you need to tell a good story is a simple, good story. If that story carries you on for more than one novel, so be it. If that story involves a love triangle, give it a chance. But don’t keep reading if there is no desire to turn the page. This trend that it’s necessary to have a trilogy to survive in YA romance will pass…just give it one more trilogy or two.