“The leitmotifs of love and the adulterous triangle, having already been much overused, must be banished entirely from the theater.”
-F.T. Marinetti, Manifesto of Futurist Playwrights: The Pleasures of Being Booed
This quote was taken from the Critical Writings of F.T. Marinetti and was part of his 1911 Manifesto of Futurist Playwrights: The Pleasures of Being Booed. Marinetti was the founder of the Futurist movement that began in Italy in 1909 (see his Futurist Manifesto here), which sought to rid the world of art’s obsession with the past and focus on those things carrying us into the future, such as technology and industry. This quote is referring directly to the many themes in drama that have been perpetuated throughout history, telling the same story but in different ways. In particular, and as the name of his movement indicates, Marinetti believed art needed to move out of the past and into the future. Art needed to be about something new, not a new version of something old.
The first thing that popped into my mind when I read this (and why I put a little star next to it to remember for later) is because this sentiment is still applicable today, 100 years later. In particular when I saw “leitmotifs of love and the adulterous triangle,” I immediately thought of the countless thematic elements present in the Young Adult genre. It would be impossible to create a solid list of the clichés that continue to be perpetuated in the Young Adult genre (although Joëlle Anthony has gotten a pretty good start). There are protagonists who love to read, protagonists who think they’re plain, protagonists who think they’re plain yet draw the attention of all the boys, mousey brunettes, lip biting, sighing, blushing, mumbling, divorced/absent parents, a conspicuous lack of technology…you get the point.
The big one that I’m getting at is (you guessed it) the love triangle. It’s everywhere, across all genres, and the funniest part about it is that it’s rarely a surprise who the protagonist is going to end up with. I mean, did anyone actually think (spoiler alert!) Bella was going to end up with Jacob? Or Lena with Julian? Probably not.
One of the books I came across recently that actually strayed from these ideas somewhat was Partials, the first book in the Partials Sequence by Dan Wells. So far there is a slight love interest going on, but a true love triangle doesn’t seem terribly likely because there are no strong feelings on the part of the female protagonist and there are much bigger things for her to worry about. The only real triangle I could imagine seems physically impossible, so if Mr. Wells manages to pull it off, kudos to him.
The Partials are biologically engineered robot-humans that have turned against their creators. After the Partials and a virus known as RM that few humans are immune to decimate the human population, the Partials mysteriously retreat and humans are left to die out. One group of surviving humans lives in a settlement on Long Island. They want for almost nothing, which can’t be said for post-apocalyptic America in other books. But they live under the constant threat of the Partials who are still out there yet remain hidden, and it becomes clear there are threats from within, as well.
Those who were alive when they contracted RM don’t suffer from it; however, because the virus is in their system, their unborn children do. No child born lasts more than a few days before succumbing to the virus that burns them up from the inside out. Now, after ten years of no surviving children, the medical community of this town are desperately in search of a cure in order to prevent this last bit of civilization from dying out. All women of child-bearing age are required to be perpetually pregnant (literally, the process was get pregnant, give birth, heal, repeat) in the hopes of someone giving birth to a child who is immune so a cure can be found.
Kira, who is training to be a medic, decides that the best way to find a cure is to go to the source, which means capturing a Partial and bringing it in for testing. She and a few allies manage to do just that, and while she gets in a great deal of trouble for risking the safety of the people of Long Island, she is given the chance to try to prove her theory. The aftereffects of her actions set into motion a series of events that completely turn her world on end and she ends up discovering more about herself, the human race, and the Partials, than she ever intended.
The love interest here is so minor that it doesn’t really contribute to or detract from the story at all. Love and marriage are pretty far from Kira’s mind, seeing as she is on a quest to save what’s left of the human race. However, the only options for her future are to get married and have babies with a human partner or get inseminated regularly by the government. Her triangle is much more complex than those of protagonists in other series because her choice is more than simply Boy A or Boy B. It isn’t a matter of who is the better match for her, it’s all about what choice she can live with. Does she marry a friend she cares for but doesn’t love? Or does she forgo a one-sided love and become an incubator for researchers? To be honest, it doesn’t really seem like a difficult decision, but that’s just me.
This book dealt with more of the big world-issues and more grown-up problems than many other series I’ve read. The foreseeable future of humanity’s end, infants as nothing more than science experiments gone wrong, mandated procreation, and the feeling of helplessness that comes from being unable to treat or find a cure for an illness due to a lack of resources were the main focus, not which boy Kira was going to end up with. Big issues show up in other YA series, but they’re usually not the focus. An example is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series, in which marriages are arranged and true love is eradicated. While a focus in Delirium was breaking away from the binds of society, the main question on everyone’s mind was, Alex or Julian?
A lot of the YA genre now often gives readers an unrealistic view of reality and relationships. There’s no acknowledgement that the “love” characters feel after speaking to each other a handful of times is likely not love, but lust. I think it’s safe to say that 17 year olds, and people in general, do not meet and fall in love with their soul mates in a matter of days. Maybe some can, but it’s not the norm, and that’s what these books often make it out to be. Take me for example. I thought my boyfriend at 17 (and 15) was the man I was going to marry, and guess what? We broke up. Good thing I wasn’t a teenage girl in a YA series because I’d probably be a vampire married to a super possessive guy that ended up not being my soul mate after all. Oops.