(Click the links to read Favorite Fictional Couple #1, #2, #3, and #4)
At number five, we have Katniss and Peeta of The Hunger Games trilogy, our representatives of the YA novel and the love that beats impossible odds.
There really isn’t a worse place for love than the Hunger Games. If there’s anyone out there reading the blog of this YA Horror author who’s somehow managed to remain virgin to the Hunger Games concept, here it is: As an intimidation technique by a dystopian government, a boy and girl from each of twelve districts are selected annually to fight to the death on live TV. The last one alive wins. With only one survivor allowed, there’s no happy ending in sight for a couple. Of course, you’ve probably guessed by their presence on this list in this particular category that Katniss and Peeta do both escape the game alive, but even once they do, they find themselves trapped in the middle of a bloody civil war, attacked and exploited as a symbol by both sides.
The Hunger Games trilogy is as dark as its seminal concept. No emotional punch is pulled, no one is safe, and on her own, Katniss is everything a dark epic hero should be. She’s tough, hardened to a fault, capable of anything except for happiness and all its associated vulnerabilities, driven by will, pragmatism, and a moral core that slowly erodes under the waves of horror she survives. By the last book, she sinks to depths that equal the evils she’s defeated, voting to allow a final Hunger Games for the children of the deposed government and upper class. Without Katniss and Peeta’s love story, the trilogy would be a pure descent-into-madness tragedy, undeniably effective but nearly unreadably bleak (and it takes a lot of bleakness to stop me from reading). Their romance, the one light in the darkness, is what transforms the story into something better, something powerfully hopeful.
More even than most fictional couples, Katniss and Peeta complete each other. Peeta on his own isn’t quite cut out to be any story’s hero. He doesn’t have Katniss’s determination, her will to succeed and survive, her willingness to act, but he has what’s missing from her. He has the desire to find happiness and goodness, the faith that they exist. He can’t do what she does, but he’s arguably the better person, maintaining his humanity while hers is chipped away. He can’t drive the story, he won’t start a rebellion, but does keep loving Katniss, through the no-win circumstances of two rounds of the Hunger Games, through his own kidnapping and brainwashing, through her darkest moments and her near-pathological inability to reciprocate, which she sheds even more slowly than her sanity.
When Katniss has lost absolutely everything else, including sight of what she stood for in the first place, when there doesn’t seem to be any possible happiness left for an ending, Peeta is the one force strong and good enough to pull both her and the story back from the abyss. In reference to something as awful as his brainwashing ordeal and the exercise they did together to restore his grip on reality, he asks the question that ends the story not with the inevitable-seeming soul-crush but with that miraculous, much-needed rush of warm and fuzzy.
“You love me. Real or not real?”
YA honorable mention:
Tally and Zane of the Uglies series. They’re not a couple that leaps easily to mind, their romance being even farther from the center of the story than Katniss and Peeta’s, but the enormity of the forces separating them, the brain-altering surgeries used by the villains in their universe’s civil war, makes their struggle to understand themselves and their feelings for each other, what is real and what is externally imposed, all the more beautiful.
Love that beats impossible odds honorable mention: R and Julie of Warm Bodies. Yes, maybe they’re on my mind lately, with the movie coming out so soon, but I couldn’t resist throwing them in here. Warm Bodies really is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever encountered, and if a zombie and a living person loving each other while their respective kinds are still trying to wipe each other out aren’t impossible enough odds, doing so poetically enough to make me accept a sentient zombie definitely has to qualify.
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