Why “Team Peeta” is a Feminist Statement (I’m Proud to Make)

First, hello to any visitors from BlogHer!  Recently I was fortunate enough to have my post, Why I Use The F Word be featured there, so welcome to any visitors that are stopping by via BlogHer.  Please feel free to look around and I hope you enjoy what you find. Comments are moderated here, but I get to them fairly quickly, so please comment!

This post was inspired by my BIG LOVE for Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy and by the following thoughtful, incisive blogs: Malinda Lo’s Why I’m Team Katniss and Nancy Werlin’s The Hunger Games, Casablanca, and the Madding Crowd

When you love a fictional character, love them so much it can ache, it’s hard to say good-bye.  It’s hard to know that, for you, in that giddy first-time-what’ll happen next way, it’ll all be over!  When other people complained about The Deathly Hallows epilogue, I  loved and defended it.  I did that for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I think it’s absolutely necessary to the text, but another main reason was that *I* needed to see Harry that one last time, knowing that all was well.

So, that’s what I feel (impractically, I know) the day before Mockinjay takes flight.

I feel so sorry that it’ll all be over!

The Hunger Games trilogy are the kind of books that light up reader’s eyes, the kind of books I have literally seen teenagers push into each other’s hands.  They’re the kind of books you feel: gut-punches, breath-stealing, oh no! gasping.  They’re the best of what young adult literature can do: the best ambassadors for when you’re telling friends who don’t read “kid’s books” about just how amazing the genre is.  They’re what we hold out when we say, “Wanna read something great?”

I can’t wait for Mockinjay, I can’t wait for that moment that so many of us all know, that we all get to the end of this intense, emotional, unforgettable story.

And I’m Team Peeta.

But what does that mean?

For some readers, I think that has come to mean that I only validate Katniss through her external relationships with boys, that unless she’s “with” a boy in the story, I’m not interested.

But it’s not like that at all for me.  See, I’m Team Peeta and Team Katniss.  For me,  the romance makes me Team Katniss just as much as Team Peeta, because it means I think Katniss deserves to live, to have joy and beauty in her life, to have someone who’ll stand by her and respect and admire the woman she becomes.

And I think Peeta is the obvious (and perfect) choice to be this someone.  Which brings me to the other thing: I’m Team Peeta regardless of Katniss.

I love Peeta Mellark just as much as I love Katniss Everdeen. (which is a heckuva lot!)

I love how he is totally guileless and open (he’s actually shocked, to some degree, at the end of The Hunger Games when he finds out Katniss was “faking” in the arena) and an uncanny, savvy media manipulator (the interviews he so carefully prepares for Caesar Flickerman, the way he traps Katniss with the locket.)  I love how he not only will he die for Katniss, he’d kill for her too.  I love that he’s brave, angry, and charming.  I love that he’s so fierce and yet so easily wounded.  I love what he sees in Katniss and I love how they interact.  I love that he paints and decorates cakes.  I love that he doesn’t show all of his cards at once, that he’s running several plans at once, that he’s in the Games to live and to win.

A teen patron told me, “I have to know what happens to the Boy with the Bread.”

That kind of character identification?  That’s about Peeta, that’s about what Suzanne Collins has created in his character.  That has nothing to do with Katniss.


What’s so wrong about that either?

Love is what makes Katniss more than the Mockingjay, more than a killing machine in the arena that slaughters for people’s amusement.  Love for Prim is what starts the whole fucking story off, love for Rue is what reminds Katniss that she has a soul.  And, in the end, it’s love for Peeta that starts the spark that changes their world.

Yes, love.

Because when Katniss stands up in front of Panem and says that either they both get out or they both die, Panem thinks they’re seeing a romantic love story.  (and, of course, to some degree they are. It’s how Katniss doesn’t quite realize that yet that twists the knife so beautifully at the gasping end of the first book.)  But they are also seeing the moment when two tributes from one District stand up and say NO MORE.  This is platonic love in its purest, this is the moment before the Quarter Quell when the tributes hold hand, expose the Games as the pure barbarity that they are.

It’s the power of love that starts this revolution.

When I say I’m Team Peeta, I mean that I am Team Peeta for who he is and that I’m Team Peeta because I’d like him to “end up” with Katniss.  (assuming they both live, naturally.) Their connection is part of the appeal of the story, for me.  I think Collins’s has worked in their narrative in a heartbreaking and aching way: the pull of wanting to be with someone but not being entirely sure where your feelings came from,  how learning the little details about someone can show you bigger parts of their story, how maturing and changing personally makes your emotional feelings evolve too.  This is smart, this is deep, this is romantic to me in the truest sense of the word.  What’s so wrong about admiring the authorial skill it took to seamlessly weave in a compelling love story in a book where people get their heads chopped off and are eaten alive by monsters?

When we, as readers or librarians or critics, are dismissive of romance, we’re dismissive of HUGE reader bases that are, let’s face it, most frequently made up of women and girls.  If romance isn’t your cup of tea, that’s cool.  But why does it get so summarily dismissed out of hand as useless or a distraction or “bad” for readers?   I think that’s a question worth asking.

I think it’s profoundly feminist to suggest that Katniss can be the bow-wielding-kick-ass spirit of rebellion who never retreats and who rallies people to challenge the status quo while also being a person who needs love, comfort, passion, and companionship.  Since when is the message that you have to choose one or the other?

If fans of romance find themselves drawn to The Hunger Games, shouldn’t we welcome them?  Shouldn’t we say, “Pull up a chair and join the conversation!”? Isn’t it it our job (librarian’s jobs, that is, those of us who do reader’s advisory, run book clubs, get teens talking about and interested in books) to facilitate deeper conversations not just assume that they only part of the story they’re interested in, the only part they MUST be able to grasp is “so, like, which boy?”

I’ll be happy to lead a “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” conversation at my Hunger Games event but we’ll also be discussing strategy in the arena, the mechanics of how the rebellion could legitimately work, and looking at fan-drawn maps of what Panem might look like and how that might change things.  It seems dismissive to assume that it has to be one or the other.

For me, it’s both.

For me, the romance is a crucial element in a fantastic, one-of-a-kind story I feel so lucky to have experienced, a story I just don’t want to be over.

And it’s one element I won’t apologize for.

Team Suzanne Collins!

6 thoughts on “Why “Team Peeta” is a Feminist Statement (I’m Proud to Make)

  1. You bring up a lot of good points and I can appreciate your Team Katniss/Peeta position. As someone who has proclaimed herself Team Katniss, and a feminist, and who reads romance novels, I think I wouldn’t have a problem with people talking about Katniss/Peeta (or Katniss/Gale) IF there was no love triangle. I think my problem isn’t with the romance per se, but with how the Team Gale vs. Team Peeta thing sometimes overwhelms the conversation. (I suppose I should also mention that I’m not a big fan of love triangles to begin with.) It seems to minimize Katniss’ accomplishments in the Hunger Games and her role in the rebellion, and imply that it doesn’t matter what she accomplishes as long as she gets a guy.

    Yes, Katniss is strong and this absolutely does not make her any less worthy or deserving of romantic love. And what she’s been through definitely makes me want her to get a happy ending. Maybe it’s a perspective thing: I’d rather think of the trilogy as being about a gutsy young woman who accomplished a lot and (maybe) finds love instead of a young woman who finds love, and, oh yeah, also challenged the government.

  2. Amy – One thing I like about Collins is that I feel like Peeta COULD die. That’s some major stakes. I was never in fear for Harry Potter. Heck, I was never in fear for Neville or Luna. I KNEW they were going to make it out alive. OH MAN I DON’T WANT PEETA TO DIE. But I sure like that he might!

    Trisha – Yes, totally. Setting “the triangle” up as the only thing worth discussing is one dimensional and boring. But I think there’s something key in the narrative IN the triangle. Gale, to me, represents the person Katniss was BEFORE the Games, Katnip and Peeta represents the person she is after. In a way, they serve as metaphors for her development and growth. For all the epic, awesome stuff (the violence, the conspiracies, the allegiances, the plot twists!) I think a key reason so many readers are connecting with this story is because it’s what I’d consider a fundamental YA narrative: how we grow up, how we learn what it means to be an adult and what we do about that. We all want to go back and be Katnip, sometimes, we want to be the girl in the woods, but as we get older, we learn more and that becomes harder and harder. HOPEFULLY Mockingjay will explore this even more, because, of course, we open with Peeta in captivity and Gale right there. One thing that’s been curious to me is that debating Peeta v. Gale isn’t a zero sum game, namely: it DOES tell us about Katniss, it DOES tell us about her story.

  3. I loved your story on BlogHer. And I think I’m going to need to start reading the Hunger Games trilogy. It sounds fantastic. And I’m so not above reading ‘kids’ books.

    Love your blog!

  4. Pingback: Librarified » Reading and re-reading: thoughts on MOCKINGJAY, CATCHING FIRE, and THE HUNGER GAMES

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