After first reading "The Hunger Games" series, I was surprised to encounter the "Team Peeta" and "Team Gale" rivalry on many of the fansites. Maybe it is because I am not a teenage girl, but I was dismayed to see such a profound story reduced to the trivial level of Twilight's love triangle. Yes, in this tale of young Katniss Everdeen's struggle to survive in the dystopian world of Panem, her friends Peeta and Gale are presented as potential love interests. But "The Hunger Games" trilogy is not a mere love story; it is a story about Love.
While it might seem strange to say that a dystopian young adult novel about children killing each other for the entertainment of an indulgent privileged class is about love, as the trilogy unfolds love emerges as the theme holding the narrative together. This is not simply romantic love, but the kind of love that nurtures and sustains life. Those familiar with the teachings of Jesus would recognize it as the sort of love he requests of his followers. Love that sacrifices itself for the sake of others, that sees the hurt and pain in the world and offers healing, and that sees the hungry and feeds them.
As the Christian scriptures remind us in 1 Corinthians 13, this sort of love "does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth." Living into this sort of love means that one recognizes injustice in the world and seeks to remedy it -- not with hatred and revenge, but with a commitment to acting rightly for the sake of love. The series portrays Katniss' struggle to discover that both she and the country of Panem need this sort of love. In this journey the characters of Gale and Peeta embody the differing options she must choose between.
Gale, as Katniss' hunting buddy, helps her feed her family by teaching her how to forage and trap her own food. Their actions are illegal under the Capitol's totalitarian laws, prompting Gale to frequently rant about the inequality and oppression in Panem. His anger develops into rage as he joins the rebellion against the Capitol and develops weapons to use against them. In response to the evil inflicted upon the districts by the Capitol, Gale wants to respond in kind. His weapons take advantage of human compassion and the desire to protect others so as to lure the enemy into traps where they can be destroyed. To Katniss, Gale's is a fire fueled by rage that for a time appears as an enticing response to the injustices of the Capitol.
Peeta, on the other hand, is the baker's son. His whole life has revolved around nurturing and sustaining others. When Katniss' family was starving, his gift of bread kept them alive. Receiving that bread also coincided with Katniss noticing the first dandelion of the spring, reminding her that she could forage for food, and giving her hope that she could survive. When Peeta is sent into the arena his greatest fear is of becoming a monster: to lose his ability to care for others as he is forced to fight for his life. Peeta resists the oppression of the Capitol too, but in ways that expose the truth about it instead of simply lashing out in rage. The boy with the bread represents life and hope rooted in that same healing and self-sacrificial love that Jesus advocated.
It should come as no surprise that in the end Katniss chooses to embrace life-affirming love. She tries the path of rage and violence and it only leaves her burned. She realizes that to survive she has to have the dandelion in the spring, a life centered around love that nurtures and builds instead of tears down. The "Hunger Games" trilogy is less the story of which boy Katniss will pick, and more about whether she will choose the way of violence and revenge or the way of love and life.
Getting wrapped up in the cute actors playing those characters in the upcoming film misses this underlying point of the series. Team Gale and Team Peeta are more accurately Team Violence and Team Love, and "The Hunger Games" is, in the end, not just an action-packed story, but an exploration of the sort of love both Panem and our world need in order to survive.
Julie Clawson is the author of "The Hunger Games and the Gospel." She lives in Austin, Texas.