This post will contain spoilers. Be warned.

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Enough spoiler space.

One reason I had so much trouble with the Hunger Games is that the book gave me no relief from tension. I don’t ask for a Jar Jar Binks or something so stupid, but I’m human and I can’t sustain fear and sadness for an entire book.

As I thought about this on the way to, at, and on the way home from the grocery store tonight (buying replacements for food I had to chuck after Sandy), I figured it out: the tension relief was there all along. I just didn’t get it because I’m not a teenage girl.

Seriously. For me, from the point that Katniss and Rue decide to attack the career pack compound, to the final page of the book, I didn’t really see any relief. It was constant tension: Making the attack, finding Rue, finding Peeta, reviving Peeta, keeping the sponsors happy, finding Cato, ending the game, and then surviving the politics of endgame, there was no relief in sight.

And why wasn’t there, you ask? What about all the slow moments? What about the very end? Oh, those were as bad as anything. It was obvious to me, you see, that the book was setting up a great crisis in book two. Katniss, returning to District 12 with Peeta, would be terribly torn between the boys. Of course she would have to keep appearances with Peeta, the boy she always felt gratitude toward, that she owed a debt to, and that she had just gone through a harrowing experience with.

But there was also Gale. Her best friend of years, who helped sustain her and her family, and who surely was to be the one she’d have built a life with if not for the Hunger Games, would be waiting. He, with a family he’d taken many Tesserae for even as he helped Katniss feed her family, who’d dreamed of taking her away from the Seam, and all that dirt, hunger, and death, he would there for her. And she would be torn, but after lots of politics, stress, and hardship, the long friendship would win out over the relationship of convenience and stress.

Therefore, every single scene where Katniss was to be putting on a show for the cameras, that was stressful. What was it doing to Gale? What was it doing to confuse Katniss? How would they resolve it?

So imagine my shock and horror to find out that Gale is shunted aside in the end, and she settles down with Peeta. Even now, I read a detailed description of Gale’s role in the series, and I’m just unsettled. It’s just wrong. But no, I’m wrong. I’m wrong to the core.

Gale is the father figure. Gale is the person who stood in for her dead father, gave her strength, courage, and inspiration, and set her on the path that let her go and succeed in life, both at the games, and in the fight against the Capitol.

Peeta is not just the choice by default, though. From the moment you hear the story of the bread, as told by Katniss, you’re supposed to know that he’s the one for her. He was always to be the one for her. Remember when she wounded him, shoving him into the jar? And he played it right off? That right there was a critical moment that established what their relationship was truly to be.

His feelings were there. Hers were confused, just as I expected, but not in the way I interpreted. But having them together, helping each other, growing closer, was supposed to be good, not tense. It was supposed to be a high point of the book, though of course not as high as ending hand in hand, out of danger, going home victors.

That’s not to say it wasn’t supposed to be a grim book, or series. It is, clearly. You can’t keep killing children and be anything but. But again, you can’t go into the book as an adult, or as man in particular, with the experiences and biases that brings, and grok the book the first try.

At least, I sure couldn’t.

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