Look, I love Katniss. I love Katniss so much that she inspired me to go all Mockingjay on my college internship and demand better treatment in exchange for being their sole five-day-a-week intern. But, I would give a leg (get it?) to read The Hunger Games from Peeta's point of view. Not instead of Katniss, of course, because I think female hero stories are super important, but in addition to Katniss' rendition. I mean, if we can get Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian's POV, why can't we get The Hunger Games as told by Peeta? His is one of the most interesting stories in the book, and one we learn the least about. That's the downfall of the first-person narrator, it's limiting for other characters in the book.
We know way more about Gale, even, than we know about the other half of the star-crossed lovers. We know the names of Gale's siblings, his mom's name, what happened to his father, etc. All we really know about Peeta is that his mother was abusive, he had two brothers, and, man, does he love bread. (Same, tho.) But, fortunately I majored in creative writing and have a super obsession with Peeta so I can try to fill in the blanks for you. I mean, I would still love Suzanne Collins to write an official Peeta bio, but this will have to do for now.
The Hunger Games
This book could use a lot more Peeta backstory. We learn a little about his crush on Katniss and how it started way back in singing class when her father was still alive and she wore her hair in two braids instead of one. We also learn that a few years later he intentionally burned bread, and risked the wrath of his mom, to give Katniss bread when she was starving. Later, in the arena, we learn that Peeta teamed up with the careers to help distract them from where Katniss really was, and that's about it. So, here's my imagined backstory for Peeta:
He grew up with two older brothers who, as brothers often do, alternated between not really giving a crap about him, and teasing him/beating him up. Peeta is a sensitive guy, and I can see that going down poorly in his house with two older brother. His mother was clearly very abusive. When Gale is getting whipped in the second book, Peeta knows what the sound means before he even sees what's happening, so he clearly has a history with abuse.
I think Peeta's father was kind-natured and good, but ultimately not able to stand up to his wife who punished her children physically. When Peeta was in school and saw young Katniss volunteer to sing a song he likely saw her as someone he wished he could be: Carefree with a loving mother and father. Peeta knew his father had loved Katniss' mom, so maybe he even wistfully wished he did marry her so he could have grown up singing instead of being punished by his own abusive mother.
Being one of the townspeople, Peeta spent time with those children to fit in, but always kept an eye on Katniss. He saw when she was starving, and he helped her. He watched her pick dandelions and slowly grow stronger and made sure she was alright. No doubt if she had still been starving later he would have burned more bread for her, which is possibly the only time burned bread has been romantic.
As for the reaping day, he was likely torn between two emotions at having been picked with Katniss, which is why he was crying. For one: He finally got to spend time with the girl he'd been in love with for years. But, two: The best case scenario is that one of them was going to die, and more likely both of them would. I don't imagine Peeta is the kind of person to cry at just anything. His mother would have bullied that out of him as would his brothers. Katniss saw Peeta's crying as a show of weakness, but I think it's just that he truly didn't care about much else in his life except her, and so she's the only one who ever moved him to tears in the books. Not the pain of the arenas, not losing his parents, but seeing that he might lose her.
Peeta is obviously very smart to have thought up playing up the romance for sponsors. Was he in love with Katniss always, or did it start out as a ploy? Personally I think that he felt very much the same as Katniss did about him in Mockingjay. That love was there, but he never truly realized the magnitude of it until he realized he might have lost her. Suddenly he regretted all those days he watched her instead of saying hi, cursed the fact that his mother likely burned the class lines into his brain, wished he hadn't cared that Katniss was from the Seam, because he didn't care, he was just trying to spare himself from the ridicule of his family.
Just as much as he was the boy with the bread, he loved the girl with the braid, and now he was going to lose her if he didn't step up and try to figure out a plan. Peeta never once gave up from the moment his name was called. He forced Haymitch to help them, plotted a way to get sympathy from the audience, and once in the arena did everything he could to keep Katniss safe.
At the end of the first book we learned a little of what Peeta's time in the arena was like before Katniss arrived:
Now I see what the audience saw, how he misled the Careers about me, stayed awake the entire night under the tracker jacker tree, fought Cato to let me escape and even while he lay in that mud bank, whispered my name in his sleep.
But, one moment that was missing was the moment he went back and killed that girl after the careers wounded her. They were all arguing over whether or not they properly finished her off when Peeta decided to just go make sure. I think in both the books and the movies, Peeta's prowess and strength are glossed over. He's seen as a hindrance in the films (um, in reality he had a fake leg, OK? It's not his fault he couldn't run through the jungle in Catching Fire.) I think he is sensitive, but I also think he's strong. You'd have to be to endure the childhood he had.
I think when he went back and killed that girl (his first kill came far before Katniss' did) he did so out of mercy. She was likely suffering and he made sure she wouldn't anymore. I'd imagine he had sat with her as she died like he did with the Morphling in Mockingjay. I'm sure just as Marvel's face plagues Katniss' nightmares, that nameless girl plagues Peeta's.
After their victory, Peeta and Katniss were separated for awhile. I'm sure that during that time Peeta spent a lot of time considering his emotions. While I think part of him always loved Katniss, I think no part of him had really accepted that she was a possibility until the Games were over. At the start of the Games he knew that only one of them could survive, and I bet he would have laid down his life for her. But, he likely never imagined a world where they could both survive and start a real relationship. So, when Katniss began laying it on thick for the cameras, I'm wondering if Peeta started to finally let that thought into his head and consider that maybe there could be a future for the two of them. I have to imagine his heart was broken when he learned she was just acting to save them. I think he understood, but that it also shut down that part of him which was willing to be open to love, for the time at least.
This book gives us a lot of Peeta time once the duo is back in the arena; we see him willing to sacrifice himself for Katniss again, but, until the reaping, we don't see much of Peeta's post-Games life. We just know that he paints now and is scarred by the emotional trauma of the arena and of losing the girl he thought for a moment loved him back. For the most part it seems like Peeta returned to his normal life after the Games. He bakes, lives with his family, etc. I can only hope his mom stopped beating him, but his horror at the sound of Gale being whipped doesn't suggest she did. That sound was fresh in Peeta's mind.
But, while Peeta was also hurt, he was able to do what Gale never was, and look at things from Katniss' point of view. Peeta later apologized for being cold and distant because he realized it wasn't fair to ask Katniss to stick to what she was saying in the high-pressure situation of the arena. To come to that realization on his own without her telling him how she was feeling shows just how sensitive Peeta is. He really did some soul searching after the arena and was able to confess his own mistakes and apologize to Katniss.
In the books, we don't get to see Peeta's thought process behind lying and saying Katniss had a baby (to try to shut the Games down), but I think it was more than just a ploy. It think it was Peeta's last feeble attempt to try to imagine this life with Katniss where she wanted to marry him instead of being pressured to and where her pregnancy would be welcome news, not a scandal. But I also think he was holding Katniss more at arm's length this time. He knew she wasn't into him the way he wanted, but he respected that. He was saddened that he was forced to marry a girl who didn't want to marry him, likely because it reflected his own parent's marriage where his father didn't end up with the woman he loved.
Plus, Peeta likely recognized that the Games were really for real this time: Only one could survive and he wanted it to be Katniss because she had people to live for, and without Katniss, Peeta didn't.
This is the book we're most cruelly denied Peeta's POV. He spends much of the book in the Capitol being held prisoner. I had wished that the Mockingjay, Part 1 movie would elaborate where the book had not, but alas I must elaborate for myself. Before Peeta is rescued and lands in District 13, we know very little about what is happening to him. Yes, he was being tortured, and yes, he was being forced to puppet Capitol propaganda, but I want to take things back to the moment he was captured.
Imagine him waking up in a stark white room strapped to a table alone in the Capitol and not knowing if Katniss is alive or where she is. I sincerely doubt the Capitol shared any of that information with him, so thus began the first part of his torture. Now imagine that, over the next weeks and months, he's forced to watch the Games on repeat as the Capitol slowly steals the happy memories he has of Katniss and replaces them with doubt and fear. Not only does he not know if Katniss is OK, but he's losing every good piece of her he had left. The capitol robbed him of his love for her, which is crueler than any kind of physical pain. Again, Peeta is used to physical pain. He grew up with an abusive mother, he lost his leg in the first Hunger Games, and had a heart attack in the second; he's dealt with that. But, I imagine that Peeta, the sensitive, quiet boy that he is, always relied on his memories as a safe space. That's why he's good at being creative and painting, because he had his imagination to escape from the horrors of his life. Suddenly that was ripped away.
In addition to that, he has to endure the suffering of the others around him: Joanna, the avoxes, etc. Peeta is not the kind of person who deals with the suffering of others well. Just think of how saddened he was about the Morphling that died in Catching Fire. He understands the power of a human life and what it means to lose one, and for him to endure the suffering of others without being able to intervene had to slowly drive him mad. Just look at later in Mockingjay when he's hijacked and accidentally kills one of the District 13 soldiers: He's distraught to the point of wanting to end his own life. That's how much he can't handle being around, or responsible, for someone else's death.
After he's taken to 13, we get to see him and hear his thoughts for the first time in the book and that mostly continues throughout until the end when Katniss shoots Coin and becomes the sole focal point of the novel again. Just think, after everything he's been through, to have to witness her trial and wonder again if he's going to lose her, only to see her finally get off and be unceremoniously shipped back to District 12 where not even her mother would join her. Peeta's own family was killed in the firebombing, so at that point it was truly just Katniss and Peeta left, and, still, he didn't pressure her to be with him. He joined her in 12, planted roses for her sister, filled in their scrapbook with beautiful tributes to lives lost, but waited until Katniss was ready before the two of them started anything.
I can only imagine his joy when Katniss had their son and daughter. I imagine he and the kids baked pastries together, painted together, and that he was thankful every single second that he got to build a life with the woman he always loved but never thought he'd get, and the two of them had a family that was kind and good — the one he grew up wishing he could have.
Peeta's such a quiet character in the books, but that's what makes him so interesting and makes me want to know so much more about him. His tale may not be as action-packed as Katniss' is, but I think his quiet, sincere way of living is just as interesting and just as important to breaking gender barriers like the book does with its female protagonist.
Katniss can be strong, Peeta can be sensitive, and together she's his fire, he's her dandelion in the spring — and it's real.