It’s a fight to the death—on live TV—when a gladiator’s daughter steps into the arena.
Lyn is a neo-gladiator’s daughter, through and through. Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family. Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator. Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying. The rules help the family survive, but rules—and the GSA—can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn’s seventh father, he also captures Lyn’s dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him... For fans of The Hunger Games and Fight Club, Lise Haines’ debut novel is a mesmerizing look at a world addicted to violence—a modern world that’s disturbingly easy to imagine.
This book was not at all what I expected. I was ready for a delightfully violent, action-packed novel. What I got was nearly the complete opposite--Girl in the Arena deals more with the moral implications of neo-gladiators than the actual action of it, and is consequently slow-paced.
Lyn is the daughter of seven gladiators. In her alternative America, gladiators are famous athletes, with millions of fans across the country--much like football players are to our society. The GSA (Gladiator Sports Association) is cult-like in nature--Lyn has always felt apart from all other people her age, and the Gladiator Bylaws have governed her life. The gladiator way of life proves stifling to Lyn, who'd rather be a pacifist and live normally. But when her stepfather Tommy is killed in the arena, everything changes. The GSA has some nasty tricks up their sleeve, and they're making it difficult for Lyn to live the life she wants to--foreclosing on her mother's possessions and house, and effectively blackmailing Lyn. And of course, there's the problem of having to marry the man who killed her father.
I wish to disillusion any of you out there who think this is a book about Lyn fighting in the arena. It's not--in fact, that part doesn't come until the very end of the book, and what actually happens is sadly short-lived. This book is really about Lyn dealing with the implications of a gladiator life she can't escape.
Lyn's parallel world was intriguing, but it was actually very similar to our own--with the exception of the gladiators and some unbelievable hologram technology. I actually have a big problem with the holograms in this story--in no way does Haines ever explain how in a world nearly identical to our own can possess technology so out of reach in ours. I felt that the holograms were a convenient crutch to lean on--especially as the story progressed and a key plot point was revealed. And although there was the hint of a love triangle, nothing of note ever happened in that department.
And the dialogue seriously annoyed me. Instead of the trusty, good old quotation marks, Haines saw fit to employ dashes. Which I understand is a stylistic choice, but I'd have enjoyed this book much more if the dialogue hadn't been structured so strangely. I mean, I was annoyed when James Joyce used dashes, so I'm even more frustrated by it in Girl in the Arena. I felt like the dialogue really pulled the story down, to the point where I was literally trying to imagine the dashes as quotation marks instead of paying attention to the story. I mostly skimmed through the dialogue without getting a real sense of the conversation unfolding.
In addition, the ending was very anticlimactic and rushed. I was severely disappointed with it, and I think it reflected the whole essence of the book-- action-less when it could be action-ful.
But all in all, Girl in the Arena was an enjoyable read. Ultimately, it was a intriguing social commentary on a possible world where professional sports and reality TV have been taken too far. I did like Lyn as a heroine--which is saying something because lately I've been disliking female main characters in young adult fiction more than I have been liking them. Her motivations and most of her actions were admirable--and her defiance against having anyone control her had me rooting for her. Lyn was the best aspect of this book since she was a very strong protagonist. And I adore the cover, even if it is sorely inaccurate.
I give it a 7/10