Dec 5 2014 11:05am

Keeping it in the Family: Romantic Stepsiblings from Clueless, Glines, Desrochers, and More!

For the uninitiated, the stepsibling trope involves illicit romance between stepsiblings. What could be more dramatic and angst ridden then two unrelated teenagers forced to fight their hormonal urges while living under the same roof? And let’s not forget that our girl Cher Horowitz fell for her stepbrother.

Paul Rudd in Clueless

As long as there is no biological relationship involved, readers are willing to accept stepsiblings getting a little naughty. The plot device is all the more compelling because the romance is genuinely forbidden. Who isn’t a sucker for that?

Sure, it’s a little bit wrong, and there’s the risk of huge fallout when the rest of the family finds out, but that is the inherent conflict that makes this trope so damn fascinating. It’s love and family drama bundled into one big sticky mess. It’s the thrill of reading Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews without feeling icky afterwards.

Putting aside the obvious pseudo-incest themes of this trope, it’s actually a useful plot device for keeping two characters in each other’s paths. Maybe the characters start out friendly in the brother-sister way, or maybe they straight up can’t stand each other. Whatever the case, the characters are forced to deal with their issues because you can’t exactly escape a stepsibling.

In some cases, the characters may have years of built up sexual tension and yearning. Other times, they may feel the emotional punch when they finally see each other as potential sexual partners. Either way, there’s the potential for heat and this makes for captivating reading.

Unsurprisingly, this angst ridden trope works very well with Young Adult/New Adult fiction with its delicious intensity and stories of first love (To say nothing of the fact that stepsiblings in a YA context are likely to be sharing a bathroom and flirting while they fight over the TV remote!)

The stepsibling premise was recently used in Penelope Ward’s Stepbrother Dearest. Greta meets her stepbrother Elec for the first time when he stays with her family for a year while his mother is travelling for work. This line from the blurb pretty much sums it up:

You’re not supposed to want the one who torments you.

Greta naively intends to befriend Elec, only to discover he is complicated and damaged. For the most part, Elec behaves like a complete jerk, lashing out at her and treating her like garbage. Of course, since he is gorgeous, tattooed and pierced (in sexy places), the two are destined for something steamy. The sexual tension is intense. We get a fast-forward to seven years later and we see even more fireworks as the stepsiblings are forced back into each other’s lives.

In a similar vein of tattooed, jerky stepbrothers, there is Abbi Glines’s Fallen Too Far: virginal Blaire moves to a beach house in Florida where she has to deal with Rush, her tortured playboy stepbrother. Blaire (“I’m from Alabama, I own boots, tight jeans and a gun,”) soon falls into a relationship with Rush because you can only resist those pesky feelings for so long, but the lovers have enough secrets, lies and problems to last them through another two installments—Never Too Far and Forever Too Far.

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There’s a different scenario in A Little Too Far by Lisa Desrochers where we have a non-jerk stepbrother. In fact, these stepsiblings are actually best friends but that goes awry when Lexi and Trent let a moment of comfort turn into something more. Throw in a love triangle and a dazzling trip through Rome and you’ve got a book that will give you butterflies and tingles.

In the popular indie Fallen Crest High by Tijan, Samantha has to deal with two stepbrothers who aren’t jerks but they pretty much ignore Sam initially, but soon they take her under their wing and into their protection. Eventually something more starts to develop with one of the brothers.

Perhaps because of historical norms, there are not many historical romances exploring this theme. Strangely back then, kissing cousins were socially acceptable but loved up stepsiblings weren’t. However it’s worth mentioning Seduce Me At Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas. Technically, Merripen isn’t Win’s stepbrother, but rather a gypsy boy her family rescued and raised. However, Win’s siblings all think of Merripen as a brother and the book has a similar “feel” to the forbidden romance of stepsiblings.

While the success of Stepbrother Dearest suggests that this trope could be gaining popularity, it hasn’t yet completely saturated the contemporary romance market so the trope still feels fresh and edgy.

Let us know what you think. Do you enjoy lusty stepsiblings or is it just a bit too forbidden for your tastes?


To learn more about the books mentioned in this post:

Stepbrother Dearest by Penelope Ward  
Fallen Too Far by Abbi Glines  
A Little Too Far by Lisa Desrochers  
Fallen Crest High by Tijan  
Seduce Me At Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas  






Jane Kriel, lover of chocolate and all things Sweet Valley High.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I quite liked A Little Too Far and I looooove Seduce Me At Sunrise. While it's technically taboo, I always see this trope as basically being the kissing cousin (hah) to the safer-territory friends-to-lover.
Maggie Boyd
2. maggieboyd66
Summers End by Kathleen Gilles Seidel has this trope. Amy and Jack are grown-ups when their parents marry. They meet for the first time when the extended family holds a summer get together. There is some angst as everyone comments and dissects the danger of a relationship between the two (it could destroy the parents new marriage) but eventually it works out in a beautiful romance. Love this book.
Jennifer Proffitt
3. JenniferProffitt
Stepbrother Dearest is on my TBR and I was surprised by how much I liked A Little Too Far bc it was a priest and a STEPBROTHER?! Never woulda thunk it!
Christina Wofford
4. Christina Wofford
Rival by Penelope Douglas, part of the Fall Away series has this trope! I loved that book, so much! She nailed it.
Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
Charlaine Harris "Harper Connelly" series uses this trope to great effect. The hero and heroine lived together as siblings in their teens and have continued to work and live together as adults. Lots of great angst.
6. wsl0612
I couldn't finish Stepbrother Dearest, I just didn't like the H&H, the "hero" in particular was too much of a BFJ (big "feckin" jerk) for me.
Jennifer Proffitt
7. JenniferProffitt
@wslo612, I have to agree with you a little. I didn't hate it, but I think we spent way too much time in the past... especially since this is new adult, I don't want to spend more than 50% of the book in the head of a 17 year old. I thought the jerkiness of the hero made a little bit of sense considering how abusive the dad was, but I also didn't why they made him abusive for those reasons. You know?
8. wsl0612
@Jennifer - Exactly, I couldn't quite grasp why he was so nasty to Greta and I really couldn't understand why she went along with it so easily. The characters, including "dear old dad" just didn't feel realistic to me. I skipped ahead and then when I realized we jumped so many years I felt like I was cheated of the NA premise.
Christina Wofford
9. Vickie Russell
I've never really understood the problem people have with steps. If they're not blood related I don't see the problem. It doesn't seem much different to me than if you start up with your brother's best friend who you grew up knowing etc.
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