Malinda Lo’s Inheritance and The Thing

Now that Inheritance has finally been out for several months, I can at last run my promised followup post on The Thing. If you haven’t read the book yet, you can check out my older spoiler-free review to tide you over until you have a chance to crack the covers; you definitely don’t want to hang out around this post, because you will be spoiled six ways from Sunday, and you would be very, very sad. (Unless you’re into that kind of thing, in which case, carry on.)

So, The Thing.

Love triangles are becoming increasingly (and frustratingly) common in young adult fiction, and at first, I feared that Inheritance was going to be no exception, though there was at least a bit of a twist in terms of the fact that it was a queer love triangle. Amber and David fought for Reese’s affections and she struggled with her feelings for both of them, see-sawing back and forth.

We’d seen Reese and Amber having a deep connection in Adaptation, and since learned that Amber lied to her, and that some of that connection was probably due to Reese’s new Imrian DNA and her inability to control her powers. Likewise, her deep connection with David was forged in part because of what they’d been through, and in part because what had been done to them.

These factors made it hard for Reese to separate her feelings from external forces, and to balance the jealousy of the two people who wanted to be with her. At the same time, she was trying to adjust to the idea that she might be queer, that her sexuality might be more complicated than she thought it was, and her whole world was turning upside down, since, you know, aliens.

Here’s where things got interesting, though. Lo could have gone the route trodden so many times before where eventually one character splits off, often with a little nudging to make us dislike him or her, and the One True Couple unites in their Oneness and everybody lives happily every after. Such is the way and the resolution of the classic love triangle, a situation that’s always framed as one in which someone has to lose; one person will be shut out, and the crux of the triangle will perhaps wonder what might have been, but know that ultimately, the right choice was made.

Instead, Lo threw viewers for a loop by having Amber open Reese and David up to the idea of polyamory. This was the point in the book where, when I was reading the ARC, I gasped out loud and promptly got on Twitter to exclaim in amazement (in a nonspoilery way) because I couldn’t think of an incident when polyamory had been presented both casually and positively in young adult fiction; it was just never offered as a solution to love triangles, when to me it’s always seemed like a totally obvious one.

Lo had even laid the groundwork in Adaptation, with a conversation between her mother and Julian’s mom in which the two women seem confused by the idea of loving two people at once. That little seed, or Easter egg, if you will, planted the idea that perhaps we’d be seeing just that sort of relationship in book two, and I have to admit that I totally missed it the first time I read it, as did, I suspect, many readers; I’m so used to seeing characters (remember, gentle reader: characters, not authors) fixate on monogamy as the one true way of being that, naturally, I’d expect them to make comments like that.

When I commented on The Thing in the book that would blow everyone’s minds, those who’d read the ARC replied that they knew exactly what I was talking about, and it became The Thing for me, as a shorthand for talking about this amazing and wonderful and fantastical THING that had happened in a piece of young adult literature. An author had firmly and beautifully integrated a poly relationship, poly values, a poly culture, into the story; they weren’t forcibly grafted on and clunky, but rather flowed totally naturally within the text, and felt right for the characters.

Poly is not for everyone in the real world, and it’s certainly not for all characters. It’s not like every love triangle could be neatly resolved with a little sweet poly lovin’. But the fact that Lo put it out there as a possibility means it will become more of one for other authors, and, of course, more of one in the outside world, too. Now teens in poly relationships, as well as adults, have a relationship like theirs represented in YA text in a positive way. And people who are questioning and unsure about their sexuality are being presented with another angle, something they may not have been exposed to before: monogamy is not the only way.

Talking with Malinda about Inheritance on its release, I asked her about her experiences with the book:

I didn’t encounter any resistance with the relationship in “Inheritance.” I was aware that it was a little out there for YA (not for adult — it’s not like this stuff doesn’t happen in adult science fiction!), but it seemed to be the only possible conclusion. The thing is, to me it seemed completely normal. My editor did remind me that my concept of “normal” is perhaps not quite the mainstream one.

I’m glad that Malinda’s able to work with Kate Sullivan, who’s such a queer-friendly editor at a queer-friendly house (I love you, Little Brown!), and I’m glad that Amber, David, and Reese had an opportunity to have their story told without interfering busybodies flapping their hands about the idea of a poly relationship in YA.

Here’s to The Thing, and to many more.