Let’s Talk About Cheating in YA Books

It takes two people to cheat. That seems pretty obvious, yet it seems that the girl always takes the blame. Whether the girl actually takes part in the cheating or is “blamed” for “forcing” her boyfriend to cheat, she tends to take the brunt of the criticism. 

We went through our shelves to find how many books that we’ve read that included cheating as a trope in love triangles and analyzed how the author portrayed the characters. 

Do you have any more examples of cheating in YA? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

1. 99 Days of Katie Cotugno

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99 Days is one of the most controversial books in the YA contemporary genre. Everyone on Goodreads seems to have a strong opinion on this book. It’s not a great book per se, but we like a lot of aspects about it.

First, Molly Barlow is obviously not perfect. She made a huge mistake when she cheated on her boyfriend Patrick Donnelly with his older brother Gabe. When she comes back to her small town Star Lake after a year, Julia Donnelly eggs her house. Everyone hasn’t forgotten what she did. 

Cotugno does a really great job of showing the hypocrisy in cheating. What about Gabe? He took advantage of an emotionally vulnerable Molly and doesn’t get any of the blame.

Second, even though Gabe apologizes a year later and wants to make it right with Molly, he’s a terrible boyfriend. He uses Molly to prove that he can get the girl. Even though they have a genuine connection, Gabe has ulterior motives. 

Third, Patrick wasn’t the perfect boyfriend. He hurt Molly both when they were a couple and tried to get her to cheat on Gabe with him in the present time. Still, Molly gets the blame because Patrick has a girlfriend at the time. 

Even though Molly has her faults, Cotugno shows that Gabe and Patrick are both emotionally abusive toward her, but in their small town look like the victims. No wonder Molly can’t wait to go off to Boston for college. We love that this double standard is discussed heavily. 

2. Last Year’s Mistake by Gina Ciocca

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Last Year’s Mistake is all about first love, but timing was always the issue. Kelsey and David had been friends for years, but one bad night ruined everything. After a year of not seeing each other, David and his father move to Newport, Rhode Island, the same place Kelsey and her family moved the year before.

In the present time Kelsey has a boyfriend named Ryan, a great group of friends and is a lot more confident than she used to be. Unfortunately, the past can’t stay in the past when David finds his way into Kelsey’s life.

Kelsey and David both deserve the blame for how they acted in this book. Unlike Cotugno, Ciocca doesn’t make her characters super sympathetic. However, David still blames Kelsey for forcing him to cheat. Later in the book David starts dating a girl named Violet, despite not being over Kelsey. After one night driving home a drunk David from a party, he and Kelsey have a moment. 1. David started it. 2. He was completely furious that the moment didn’t lead Kelsey to dumping Ryan right away.

The relationships throughout the book were so unhealthy. David was such an annoying person and never treated any of his girlfriends well. Ryan treated Kelsey so much better, even after he found out about the charting. David should have done himself a favor and stayed in Connecticut.

3. Truly, Madly, Famously by Rebecca Serle 

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In the sequel to Famous in Love, Paige Townsen is trying to adjust to life in the spotlight. Everything in Hollywood is so intimidating and she doesn’t know what she’d do without her boyfriend Rainer Devon. Unfortunately, she can’t get over her crush on Jordan Wilder, her other costar.

One night after drinking too much at a party, Paige and Jordan kiss, which is filmed by one of the guests. In the blink of an eye, the whole world knows what she did.

Serle does a great job of showing how one mistake when your famous can have a chain reaction. Even though Jordan was equally involved, the whole world turned on Paige and slut-shamed her. It was much easier to be the guy in the scenario and it became another example of hypocrisy.

Another thing Serle did well was focus on character growth. She noted that both Jordan and Paige made mistakes, but had them both try and make amends. Even Rainer was receptible to this and showed his own growth throughout the series.

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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Anna Oliphant never wanted to move to Paris, France, but once she arrived, she quickly fell for Etienne St. Clair. But despite that connection, Etienne already had a girlfriend named Ellie, who was attending college in the city.

We absolutely love Anna and the French Kiss: it’s one of the best YA romances. However, the cheating theme was still fairly prominent in the book. While Etienne never physically cheated on Ellie with Anna, he was clearly falling in love with Anna. Despite us loving Etienne, he really needed to just break up with Ellie from the start.

Anna is even criticized for liking Etienne, which made no sense because he gave her every reason to fall for him. He was constantly flirting and the two spent tons of alone time together. They even slept in the same bed over Thanksgiving break.

Even thought Ellie was a terrible girlfriend, she didn’t “force” Etienne to cheat. He could have easily cut ties and moved on a lot sooner.

5. The Ivy by Lauren Kunze

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In The Ivy series, Callie Andrews is in a love triangle with Gregory Bolton and Clint Weber. To make matters worse, Clint is still close with his horrible and vindictive ex-girlfriend Alexis Thorndike. In the four book series, Callie faces a lot of drama.

The biggest issue we have was Clint treating Callie horribly. Kunze does a good job explaining unhealthy relationships by focusing on the dynamic between Clint and Alexis. Alexis is literally finding every way to torture Callie, yet he always defends her.

Later in the series, Callie gets jealous and checks Clint’s computer. He gets so angry with her, but she was right, Clint had cheated on her with Alexis. Plus, Clint had the audacity to lie about it for a long time…even after they break up. When he does admit it, he acts like Callie forced him into it, even though he was the worst boyfriend of all time. BTW he also is the reason Callie almost gets stranded on an island. But Gregory was there to save the day!

The great thing about this series is that Callie’s friends are super supportive and funny. They help Callie have the best freshmen year, despite all the drama. And oh boy do they celebrate with her after Alexis and Clint face their karma.

Published by I'm All Booked Up YA

We write recommendations and reviews for YA books.

23 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Cheating in YA Books

  1. I definitely feel like cheating is an overused trope in romance in general, but it’s also prevalent in the real world and one of the most difficult types of break ups to get through. So it makes sense that it pops up so often as I feel like readers who have been cheated on will seek out those types of stories in order to connect it to their own experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think definitely stories that revolve around cheating will evoke strong opinions because everyone has a different idea of what cheating can and does look like. I love that you have put together a short list of books that use this trope and shared your thoughts on how the theme interacts and drives the story!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post!! I have only read Anna And The French Kiss and I agree that Etienne “emotionally” cheated on Ellie and sometimes it’s just as bad. I don’t really mind cheating in books because I know it’s a device used for drama and it’s fictional but I wouldn’t condone it in real life!! 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think cheating is an overused trope in a ton of fiction (books, movies, TV shows) but then again, I think it’s a somewhat realistic problem that a lot of people can relate to, so I kind of understand it.

    Liked by 1 person

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