When the movie version of ‘The Hunger Games’ opens this weekend, many of the novel’s biggest fans will be anxious to watch one particular plot point unfold on the big screen: the love triangle between Katniss, who puts her life at risk to save her sister when she volunteers for the Hunger Games, and Peeta and Gale, who would both risk anything for her.
“Love triangles are super popular right now,” Cassandra Clare, author of the best-selling young adult series ‘The Mortal Instruments’ and 'The Infernal Devices,' said at a recent Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference.
Clare, whose prequel to the series, ‘Clockwork Prince,’ is a finalist for Teen Book of the Year in the 2012 Children’s Choice Awards, says she initially set out to write 'Infernal Devices' for her friend, author Holly Black (‘White Cat’), “because she hates love triangles and I love love triangles.” Clare wanted to prove to Black that stories centered around love triangles can be well-written—and can appeal even to those who have sworn off love-triangle fiction. “People hate badly done love triangles,” Clare says.
For a story based on a love triangle to work, the indecision that the person at the center of the love triangle feels has to be believable; otherwise, readers will wonder, “If you really love that guy, why would you want to be with another guy?” Clare says. The weight of the bond that the character shares with each person who is competing for his or her affections must be substantial—both to build tension and capture readers’ interest.
There also must be compelling reasons why readers will be torn between the objects of the character’s affections—to the extent that readers will choose sides. ‘Hunger Games’ fans are divided between “Team Peeta” and “Team Gale,” just as ‘Twilight’ fans were split among “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob.”
Here’s how ‘The Hunger Games’ love triangle plays out in the novel.
“The kind of love story that is fun to live is not fun to read about,” Clare says, and indeed, the conflicting feelings Katniss has for Peeta and with Gale, and her confusion over why she’s drawn to Peeta, why Gale might be drawn to her, and what she should feel for either of them, keep readers squirming for her throughout the ‘Hunger Games’ series.
Gale is “the only person with whom I can be myself,” Katniss says. Both she and Gale lost their fathers to a mining accident, and it’s up to them to feed their siblings and their mothers by sneaking off into the woods—an area that is forbidden to people in their community—and hunting for fresh meat that they can bring home for supper or trade for other necessities. Theirs is a friendship born from common suffering, their mutual disdain for the Capitol, their appreciation of each other’s skill and their loyalty to each other and to each other’s families. “He became my confidant, someone with whom I could share thoughts I could never voice inside the fence,” Katniss says. “Being out in the woods with Gale … sometimes I was actually happy.”
But there’s a shift in their relationship when Katniss takes her sister’s place in the games. With 24 contestants and only one survivor each year, Katniss has little chance of making it home alive. Gale is allowed to see her for a few moments before the Capitol guards take her away—and for the first time, Katniss finds both physical and emotional comfort in Gale.
“Finally, Gale is here and maybe there is nothing romantic between us, but when he opens his arms I don’t hesitate to go into them. His body is familiar to me—the way it moves, the smell of wood smoke, even the sound of his heart beating I know from quiet moments on a hunt—but this is the first time I really feel it, lean and hard-muscled against my own,” Katniss reveals when Gale comes to visit her just before she leaves for the games. But in the few minutes they have together, Gale’s discussion is all about strategy—what Katniss must do to stay alive (“Listen. Getting a knife should be pretty easy, but you’ve got to get your hands on a bow,” he tells her). And his parting words—“Katniss, remember I …”—are cut off by the slam of a door as armed guards pull them apart.
“I’ll never know what it was he wanted me to remember,” Katniss says afterward. That is why, throughout the entire novel, Katniss cannot be sure of Gale’s feelings for her. And because she has only ever thought of Gale as a good friend and a good hunting partner, she’s been oblivious to the idea that he might feel something more for her than friendship, even when he suggests they run off together in the woods, leave their district behind and try to make it on their own.
“There’s never been anything romantic between Gale and me,” Katniss reflects after they’ve hunted for the last time. “When we met, I was a skinny 12-year-old, and although he was only two years older, he already looked like a man. It took a long time for us to even become friends, to stop haggling over every trade and begin helping each other out.” When other girls notice Gale’s good looks and strength, Katniss admits, it makes her jealous—“but not for the reason people would think. Good hunting partners are hard to find.”
Or Team Peeta?
Peeta Mellark is the son of the local baker—and has been secretly in love with Katniss since they were children. When Katniss was 12 and her family was starving, Peeta’s mother caught Katniss rummaging through the garbage bin behind the bakery, searching for scraps to take home to her sister and mother. Moments after his mother leaves, Peeta burns a loaf of bread on purpose—and after she hits him and orders him to give the bread to the pig out back, Peeta throws the bread in Katniss’ direction without a word.
“It didn’t occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose,” Katniss says. “Might have dropped the loaves into the flames, knowing it meant being punished, and then delivered them to me.” Katniss quickly dismisses the thought: “It must have been an accident. Why would he have done it? He didn’t even know me.”
So when Haymitch, the town drunk and the only survivor of the games living in their district, suggests to Katniss that her only chance of surviving the games, aside from her skill with a bow and arrow, is to capture the audience’s affections—and the affections of sponsors, who provide gifts of food and supplies to contestants throughout the competition—is by pretending to be in love with Peeta, Katniss balks. “You’ve got about as much charm as a slug,” Haymitch tells her, and the appearance of a relationship with Peeta—whose goodness shines through in his television interviews prior to the games—will have everyone rooting for both of them.
“It’s all about how you’re perceived,” Haymitch tells her. “The most I could say about you after your interview was that you were nice enough, although that in itself was a small miracle. Now I can say you’re a heartbreaker … Which do you think will get you more sponsors?”
But during the games, when Peeta confesses to Katniss how he first fell in love with her at the age of 11, as he watched her singing at their school (“I swear, every bird outside the windows fell silent,” Peeta tells her), and then tells her that he thought it was a stroke of luck when both their names were drawn for the games, Katniss struggles with her reaction. “For a moment, I’m almost foolishly happy and then confusion sweeps over me. Because we’re supposed to be making up this stuff, playing at being in love, not actually being in love. But Peeta’s story has a ring of truth to it.” And when Katniss and Peeta share their first kisses as they hide from their competitors in a cave, Katniss is surprised by how her body responds physically over time: “This is the first kiss where I actually feel stirring inside my chest. Warm and curious. This is the first kiss that makes me want another.” Still, Katniss says, “I don’t get it.”
It never occurs to her that Peeta isn’t faking his love for her: “Who will he transform into if we make it home? This perplexing, good-natured boy who can spin out lies so convincingly the whole of Panem believes him to be in love with me, and I’ll admit it, there are moments when he makes me believe it myself?” And she can’t help but wonder what Gale must think, watching the romance she and Peeta are developing from his television set back home: “I feel Gale’s gray eyes watching me watching Peeta, all the way from District 12.”
Who Will Be the Victor?
Readers of all three books in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy know who Katniss ultimately chooses in this compelling love triangle—but that doesn’t keep them from debating which boy Katniss should choose.
Whose side is Clare on? one of her Twitter followers asked her Thursday. “Team Peeta,” she answered.
ONTD, do you like love triangles in YA books?