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Inheritance: Malinda Lo on (Bisexual) Love Triangles

Inheritance (review to come later today) is the sequel to last year’s Adaptation and it concludes this story about aliens, conspiracies and luuurve. We are super happy to host Malinda Lo today to talk about the love triangle and how it features in the duology.

Inheritance Malinda Lo

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On (Bisexual) Love Triangles

(Spoiler Warning: There are some spoilers in this post for Adaptation. I tried to write it without spoilers, but it was just too vague. So if you haven’t read Adaptation, be warned! There are no spoilers in here for Inheritance.)

Love triangles are a fraught concept within the YA readership. If you google “love triangle young adult fiction,” you’ll find dozens of blog posts arguing over whether love triangles are good, bad, empowering, disempowering, feminist, anti-feminist, stupid, silly, or fun. Everybody has an opinion! I’m sure a few people don’t care one way or another, but since they don’t care, they don’t blog about it.

As a reader, I understand that when a love triangle is poorly done, it can be annoying. As a writer, I think that love triangles can be useful storytelling devices, and that’s part of the reason I chose to write a love triangle in my most recent two novels, Adaptation and its sequel, Inheritance, which just came out.

The love triangle in this duology, though, isn’t your typical girl-torn-between-two-hot-guys love triangle. Adaptation and Inheritance are about a 17-year-old girl, Reese Holloway, who falls for two people: a guy named David Li, and a girl named Amber Gray. It’s a bisexual love triangle. (It’s also about government conspiracies, freaky birds, and a secret military base, but this post is about love triangles!)

I believe that sexuality exists on a spectrum, and at one end you have people who identify as 100% straight, while on the other end are people who identify as 100% gay. I believe that the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle. This is where I place the identity “bisexual,” in that broad middle portion of the spectrum, and that’s the perspective from which I wrote Reese’s story.

I saw the love triangle in Adaptation and Inheritance as a tool to tell a very specific story about identity. The love triangle enabled me to write about bisexuality in a heightened way that I think wouldn’t have worked in a realistic novel.

Why? Well, one response to the popularity of love triangles in YA is the objection that love triangles simply aren’t realistic. “It wouldn’t happen that way in the real world!” some folks argue. And in a way, I agree with that objection. In the real world, a love triangle is often called something else — an affair. And there are plenty of novels (many of them in the serious literary fiction genre) that deal with affairs and all their sordid, heartbreaking reality.

I believe that love triangles, in contrast, are meant to be sexy and exciting. The reader is meant to get some thrills out of it, because it’s supposed to be a fantasy. A fantasy, by definition, is not supposed to be realistic. So while I agree that love triangles aren’t necessarily realistic, I don’t think that’s the point. I think they’re supposed to be fun, heightened romance narratives.

That was one of my goals when writing Adaptation and Inheritance. There are some serious themes in these books, but I also wanted them to be fun to read. Personally, I found it pretty fun to spin a romantic fantasy about falling in love with two different but equally attractive individuals. How often does that happen in real life? Basically never. But a lot of stuff happens in these books that would never happen in real life (Or would it? *conspiratorial laugh*), so I think it’s appropriate that the romantic plot echoes that heightened feel.

The love triangle that Reese is involved in also intersects with the greater struggle she’s dealing with. As I noted, Adaptation and Inheritance are about identity, but not only sexual identity. For me, one of the central questions of these books is what makes us human.

This issue is often tackled in science fiction, which has tools to explore it in ways that realistic fiction cannot. (Realistic fiction does explore this question too, but in different ways. I wanted to use the SF tools.) Amber and David represent not only male and female, but human and not-human. I hope they also challenge that binary a bit — just as bisexuality challenges the binary between hetero and homosexual.

Reese’s love triangle, therefore, is about at least two different things (I’m sure readers could come up with more). It’s about falling in love with a guy and a girl at the same time, but it’s also about what is human versus what is not human.

Back in 2010, author Carrie Ryan wrote a really fascinating post about love triangles, in which she argued:

“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. This internal struggle then gets reflected externally as she wars within herself and grows. And that’s the heart of any book — a character’s growth from first page to the last.”

Carrie was talking about heterosexual love triangles, but I think her point is still applicable here. Reese is certainly trying to figure out who she wants to be and what’s important to her — on more than one level. The question is, if Reese is bisexual, how does that romantic struggle — that choice, if it is a choice — manifest in a love triangle?

Personally, I think it can only manifest in one way because of what bisexual means. I invite you to read the books yourself to see if you agree.


Malinda Lo is the author of several young adult novels including most recently the sci-fi thriller Adaptation, which is a finalist for the 2013 Lambda Book Award and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2013. Before she became a novelist, she was an economics major, an editorial assistant, a graduate student, and an entertainment reporter. She lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog.


  • Bibliotropic
    September 24, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Very awesome post, and a good piece of perspective on both bisexuality and love triangles within any piece of fiction, not just YA stuff.

  • hapax
    September 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I’m not actually bothered by romantic triangles that are really TRIANGLES: a is torn between b and c, b is torn between a and c, c is torn between a and b. That’s a problem (or, depending upon their inclinations, an opportunity) in which the power and agency is equally distributed.

    What I can’t stand are romantic triangles that are actually VERTICES; that is, a is torn between b and c, but both b and c are fixed upon a. I realize that people don’t have real control over who will choose to love them (or even entirely over whom they will choose to love), but such situations squick me out; and I can’t accept a character who will permit such a situation to go on for very long.

    More than the wearisome “TEAM B or TEAM C” mentality that these encourage is the potential for emotional abuse and harm. Human beings being what we are, there is way to much temptation for manipulative power games here, and I find it … difficult to believe … that anyone would not succumb eventually, even while persuading him/herself that s/he was acting in the others’ “best interest.”

    But Lo is an author who has proven herself in fraught and complex emotional situations before. I am apprehensive but interested to see how she resolves this one.

  • Sarah/appifanie
    September 24, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Bird strikes!

    Anyway. This is a really great post – sometimes one needs to read about the purpose of love triangles to remember their purpose. I remember I was reading some reviews of Inheritance as I was reading the book itself, and some of the reviews said that they didn’t really understand the point of it being a bisexual love triangle, at which point I realized that the bisexual part is totally irrelevant.

    I think in real life relationships are more complicated than triangles – there are all sorts of different people who affect and matter to you in different ways.

  • Rahul Kanakia
    September 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I like the idea of a bisexual love triangle. There are a lot of kinds of bisexuality (infinite kinds?) but sometimes it seems like bisexuality is played for sexy effects: there’s not much literary attention to bisexuals who can feel strong romantic feelings for either gender.

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