Review: Three Sides of a Heart edited by Natalie C. Parker

Title: Three Sides of a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles
Editor: Natalie C. Parker
Authors: Renee Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagen, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, E.K. Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker, Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, Brenna Yovanoff

“You can fit two people where three can’t go,” one character in E.K. Johnston’s “Work in Progress” muses, and this blunt statement captures the conflict behind the love triangle perfectly. But while this plot device seems over-utilized in many YA romances, it is carefully subverted and re-examined to surprising results in Three Sides of a Heart, where Johnston’s story appears.

The truth is, I normally shy away from YA stories with love triangles. I’ve read and agonized over them well enough (The Infernal Devices’ Will-Tessa-Jem, I’m still salty over you) that I’ve begun to prefer more straightforward romances. But the solid author lineup of Three Sides of a Heart convinced me to give this collection a try, and I don’t regret it at all. It retires the vampire-mortal-werewolf and the jock-quirky girl-friend triads for fresher content. It is inventive and unfettered, framing the love triangle with an array of truly fascinating scenarios and diverse characters. An engaged couple escapes a zombie horde in an alternate Civil War South where black girls are trained for combat. A literal musical triangle makes best friends fight over a childhood crush. In a society marked by abuses, a masked vigilante leads an infatuated poet to question his family’s wealth and privilege. But plot and characters are not the collection’s only strengths. Many of the stories are also marked by creative narrative and structural choices that make the reading experience so much richer.

While I thought that the collection was strong and well-curated all around, I still had my favorites. Natalie C. Parker’s Cass, An, Dra is an ode to choice. The language is beautiful as it squarely puts the reader in its main character’s shoes, a young girl tugged by all the futures she has not chosen but can still see. I was surprised by how much detail was packed into Lamar Giles’ The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Catwoman without feeling overwhelmed by the world-building. It carries shades of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with delicious and unexpected twists. Renee Ahdieh’s La Ravancha del Tango is a masterclass in chemistry in just a few short pages, as a young Indian-American tourist meets two strangers in Buenos Aires.

Early reviews for the anthology are mixed, with critical ones coming from readers who weren’t expecting the large volume of genre stories here or felt constrained by these choices in short fiction. But if you’re a reader who’s eager for more racial and sexual diversity in YA genre stories and would like to read beyond an easy, comfortable trope, then I highly recommend that you try this.

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