(Major spoilers for Twilight and The Hunger Games. Plan accordingly.)
Are you Team Jacob or Team Edward? Team Peeta or Team Gale? Or are you Team No Teams? Thanks to the diametrically opposed love interests in the Twilight saga, and the smashing success soon after of the Hunger Games series, which also features a love triangle, the curious phenomenon of “teams” has become something of a YA fixture. (Those looking for further evidence of its pervasiveness need look no further than Mallory’s post about The Selection or any of the other books in our Choose Your Teams collection.)
If you had talked to the me of five years ago, I would’ve told you I was Team No Teams, that reducing everything with a love triangle in it into a competition is silly. Even today, my Twitter profile professes that I’m Team Katniss, because the Hunger Games is about so much more than what boy Katniss will end up with and I’m supposed to be some sort of intellectual individual who’s too aloof to respect the feelings of teenagers.
But this reactionary hatred of teams I once harbored (and, alright, still sometimes feel) is foolhardy, and a lie. I am totally Team Peeta. Katniss and Peeta are my OTP. Peeta has a pure soul and respects Katniss and bakes cheese buns and fights toxic masculinity through his glorious existence. Gale is lucky Katniss ever bothered with him. I am also Team Jacob in Twilight, because I like wolves, were- or otherwise, and he’s the loyal, not-stalker (yes, you’re a stalker, Edward) best friend who is cruelly shafted.
In other words, choosing YA teams a lot like cheering for real sports teams and less arbitrary. Like the greatest sports rivalries, the two choices in love triangles are the bitterest rivals, generally opposites of each other in many ways. Unlike sports teams, which we generally learn to root for at an early age based on where we happen to live at the time, choosing a love interest says something about what we as readers value.
In Twilight, Edward represents a sort of Victorian ideal, living a decadent, refined lifestyle despite his base urges to suck the life out of humans. But Jacob is a wild, free spirit, tearing his clothes off every time he morphs into a raging wolf (and lacking clothes whenever he turns back into a human… I’m just saying). In The Hunger Games, Gale is Katniss’s kindred spirit—a hunter, a fierce fighter, a law-breaker. But Peeta is presented as a creator—he makes things instead of destroying them (baking, painting), and plays by the rules with as little blood loss as possible.
That description may seem like teams are all about defining heroines by their choice in men. But I don’t think it’s as cynical or reductionist as that. It’s more an acknowledgement that the people you associate with help shape the person you become. It’s not that Bella doesn’t love Jacob or that Katniss doesn’t love Gale—it’s that Bella wants Edward more, and also wants to be a vampire; it’s that Katniss, after surviving two Hunger Games and a war, needs ”the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.” And only Peeta can give her that.
Plus, being Team [Insert Your Favorite Dude’s Name Here] doesn’t preclude us from being Team Heroine as well. Of course I’m Team Katniss; she embodies a balance of stereotypical masculine and feminine traits I admire, and this guides her impeccable survival skills. Though Team Bella is a less popular choice, I will stand in her corner, because ordinary, moody “girly” girls with (extra)ordinary problems deserve just as much respect as action heroes. Choosing teams doesn’t demean the heroine’s individuality, which I couldn’t see when caught up in the rhetoric of Team No Teams.
Finally, I’d assert these love triangles are way more clever than you and I often give them credit for. The feelings between Peeta and Katniss and Gale and Katniss are all tainted by the Games, and our investment in their love lives effectively turns us into the Capitol audience we’re meant to reject and despise. Bella has much more agency than Katniss in this regard, and she’s not afraid to embrace her preference in supernatural creatures or her sexuality. Victoria Aveyard’s recent debut, Red Queen, builds one of the sweetest and most compelling love triangles in YA, only to tear it to pieces in a heartbreaking skewering of the trope (though there are still two books for attempts at redemption).
So the next time the thought “ugh another YA love triangle” pops into our heads, remember it’s hard to chose between two great but opposite options—and that these triangles are much more than they appear. Above all, let’s remember to keep the competition friendly (even if you’re still Team No Teams).