Every reader has an opinion on love triangles. Some avoid them at all costs. Others, including myself, are happy to read them provided they are done well. (You can also check out the defense of love triangles and instalove that I put together on Veronica’s blog for Contemporary Conversations: “Bad” Romance: In Defense of Love Triangles and Insta-Love.)
As a fan of love triangles in a variety of genres, I was excited to check out Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles (2017) a short story collection edited by Natalie C. Parker. This collection features a variety of authors and offers a fairly inclusive group of voices among the authors and characters. The stories cover a variety of love triangle configurations with male, female, and gender fluid characters of varied sexual orientations. The stories also exhibit a diversity of incomes and lifestyles and cover themes of mental illness as well. (It’s worth noting that physical disabilities are not featured in this collection.) Most importantly, these stories cover a variety of genres spanning the spectrum from straight contemporary to hard sci-fi and high fantasy.
Read more for my short reviews of the individual stories:
Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno
: Rowena is newly out to her family and friends and still figuring out if she fits into her family the way she did before. She’s also still dealing with a painful and all-encompassing on her brother Steve’s best friend Taylor–the girl everyone is pretty sure Steve is going to marry one day. This story is cute but I never connect with Cotugno’s writing and this story was no exception. Ro’s relationships with Steve and Taylor were sweetly handled and the story resolves neatly if abruptly.
Dread South by Justina Ireland
: This story is set in the same world as Ireland’s forthcoming novel Dread Nation. The story follows white, southern teen Louisa as all hell breaks loose and she is saved repeatedly from zombie hoards by Juliet–a Negro girl trained in combat to protect useless girls like Louisa. The triangle here is interesting and, of course, being from Justina Ireland it offers a smart and incisive look at race relations as well as Louisa’s white privilege. How you feel about this one may depend a lot on how you feel about zombie stories.
Omega Ship by Rae Carson
: A lot of reviewers are citing this story as a standout in the collection and I’m still not sure why. Carson is a very hit or miss author for me. I love her Gold Seer trilogy but The Girl of Fire and Thorns left me cold. I liked this story even less. Eva, Dirk, and Jesse are the last three survivors from Earth. Meant to travel to a new planet on the Omega Ship these three teens were part of a mission to colonize and save humanity. Then the ship crashes and everyone else dies leaving Eva as the only woman capable of saving humanity–provided she wants to spend the rest of her life in an endless cycle of childbirth. It turns out Eva doesn’t want that but you’ll have to read the story to see what she does about it. My biggest issue with the story: the ship’s mission timeline has to be sped up and everything is too heavy. Rather than lose arts and culture the colonists decide to give up clothes.
La Revancha del Tango by Renee Ahdieh
: This story was a bit of a surprise since I know Ahdieh more for her fantasy novels and expected more of the same here. Instead we get a contemporary story about a girl traveling on her own to Buenos Aires the summer before college. Nothing is quite as she expects including the snobby English boy with the terrible beard that she meets at her youth hostel.
Cass, An, and Dra by Natalie C. Parker
: Cass can see into the future whenever she makes a decision. And for as long as she can remember her present and her future have always included An. When Cass looks ahead and sees a future with Dra it shakes everything Cass thought she knew about who she is and who she wants to be with. In addition to have a f/f relationship in the triangle Dra is genderfluid too making this a really nice addition to an already inclusive collection.
Lessons for Beginners by Julie Murphy: Ruby isn’t just a great kisser, she’s a great kissing teacher–something that has led to plenty of business for her and her friend/manager Paul. When Ruby gives lessons to her childhood friend Annie and her boyfriend it sparks new chemistry between the girls. The premise, for me, was totally bizarre here but Murphy’s writing is super cute. I liked the way everything was handled here, so much so that I might be picking up Ramona Blue soon.
Triangle Solo by Garth Nix
: I will read anything that Garth Nix writes and am happy to report that I loved this one just as much as I expected too. Connor and Anwar are both percussionists in the school orchestra. Anwar hates playing the triangle beyond all reason but Connor refuses to play the triangle for Anwar because he wants attractive and charming Anwar to have some things that don’t go his way. When Connor’s childhood friend Kylie shows up back on Mars, Connor is pretty sure she’ll end up dating Anwar. Why wouldn’t she? Which makes Connor even more determined that Anwar will play this next triangle solo–that is until he realizes who is behind this new composition. This was really cute sci-fi that felt like contemporary. I’d expect nothing less from Nix.
Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth: I can’t confirm but I have a sneaking suspicion that this story is set in the same world that Roth created for her short story in the Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology. Edie is horrified when two boys ask her to prom. After an unexpected reunion with her estranged friend, Kate, Edie uses Kate’s father’s decision making machine to see who she should choose. The answer isn’t entirely what Edie expects. This was a pretty charming story that reminds readers that sometimes the right choice can be no one.
Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston
: I loved this story and honestly, I feel like I could write an entire blog post just about this one story. It’s really nine stories in one about storyteller Alex, quick thinking Tab, and street smart CJ. This is written in second person so the characters are all genderless. In version 1.0 readers get a sci-fi story following three friends trying to survive as mutineers overtake the crew of their space ship. Will they stay together? Will they survive? Choose. 2.0 is contemporary. Three friends at a lake house every summer. Again the same questions. Will they stay together? Should they? Choose. 3.0 is high fantasy. Alex is a knight embarking on a quest with Mage Tab who is chronicling the venture and thief CJ who is there to keep them alive. The three are stronger together. But only if they continue to choose each other. The format and structure here are so clever and inventive. I also appreciated the idea of a love triangle that might be more of a friend triangle. i’d love to hear more about Johnston’s thought process and inspiration and intent for this story. This is the first story in the collection where I said to myself “Wow this should really be a full novel.”
Hurdles by Brandy Colbert
: My main takeaway from this story is that I really need to read some Brandy Colbert novels because this (like every short story I’ve read by her) was excellent. What happens when the thing that makes you YOU stops being the thing you love? A young track star isn’t sure and struggles to balance pressures from her coach father with her own needs and maintaining her relationship with her boyfriend. That all goes out the window when the love of her life comes back from rehab and asks her to run away with him.
The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman by Lamar Giles: If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer you are going to love this story. Nothing is quite as it seems here and, honestly, I can’t tell you more without ruining the story’s payoff. This wasn’t a favorite of mine but I definitely enjoyed it enough that I’ll be keeping my out for some of Giles’ novels at the library.
Waiting by Sabaa Tahir
: Another surprise contemporary story from a fantasy author. Ani is waiting to start at Stanford. Waiting to leave her small town. And waiting for her best friend Sam to get out of prison and tell her what that kiss between them meant. While Ani waits she starts an unexpected friendship with Félix–a boy she never thought she could befriend forget possibly care about. Is Félix being there when Ani needs him enough to justify a relationship? Is Sam really worth the wait? You’ll have to read this one to find out. This is the kind of story where I am having as much fun imagining possible outcomes for these characters down the line as I did reading it. Such a pleasant surprise. I don’t think the writing will be in the same style but I’m definitely considering picking up Tahir’s fantasy series now.
Vega by Brenna Yovanoff
: I love everything Yovanoff writes and this was no exception. A love triangle between a girl, a boy, and the city the girl loves—the same one that is slowly killing the boy. This story is evocative and eerie and sizzles as much as Vegas’ summer heat. It was also quite the nailbiter as I worried that Elle might let Vegas’ glitter distract her from Alex. (Don’t worry, all ends as it should. Phew!) This story is easily my favorite of the collection.
A Hundred Thousand Threads by Alaya by Dawn Johnson
: At first I thought this story was a gender-swapped futuristic Zorro. In retrospect I think it’s actually more The Scarlet Pimpernel although maybe they are ultimately the same thing. Either way this story is set in the future in Mexico City with a complicated love triangle between a somewhat clueless boy, a savvy girl, . . . and the girl’s secret identity as a vigilante/spy/hero. Johnson has been hit or miss for me in the past so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. It’s a lot of fun and really pushes the limits of what short stories can do. I’ll definitely be giving Johnson’s novels a second chance.
Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton: Gratton’s writing is intense and sexy as Safiya struggles with her desires for both her body double and a strange soldier as well as her duties as the Moon God’s mistress. Being a story from Tessa Gratton this story also has incredibly intricate world building to the point that I was convinced there must be some historical basis to the characters and belief system (there isn’t, the writing is just that good). I once heard author Sarah Rees Brennan talk about how love triangles rarely resolve in favor of Team Naughty Threesome. THIS IS THAT STORY.
Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen
: Enoch is sure that he and Casimir can be happy together forever–or as happy as vampires can be. Then a new student discovers the boys together and it changes everything. I like a very specific type of vampire story. This wasn’t that kind of story although it was another interesting spin on the love triangle.
Any anthology runs the risk of being uneven–not every story or author can be for every reader, after all–but I have to say that for the most part Three Sides of a Heart is one of the most solid short story collections I’ve read. A must read for fans of love triangles and an excellent introduction to some the hottest names in YA right now. Recommended.