Girl in the Arena: Didn't Quite Live up to the Potential


A Review for Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Publication date: October 13, 2009

Set in a futuristic United States where a group of guys took Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club too far and a company called Caesar’s Inc sensed the opportunity to make money and stepped in, reality television and the UFC have been replaced by Neo-Gladiators. Glads, as they’re called, are treated like celebrities only a contract with Caesar’s is worse than enlisting in the military – there’s no early discharge, and sometimes – not always – matches go to the death. Girl in the Arena tells the story of eighteen year old Lyn who is the daughter of a neo-Gladiator, and her mother, Allison, the quintessential Glad-wife, is on her seventh husband – all of whom have been Gladiators.

And it’s this seventh husband, Tommy, who has really been a father to Lyn and her half brother Thad. But in the American Title Fight, Tommy is killed by Uber, a gifted young fighter, who claims the bracelet Tommy was wearing. The only problem is that the bracelet, a dowry bracelet, really belongs to Lyn, and by gladiator rules, this means Uber must marry her. Her family now stands to lose everything, and she can either marry her father’s murderer or enter the arena and face off against him in mortal combat.

I was really looking forward to this book, especially after picking it up at BEA and reading the back copy which touts similarities to Hunger Games and Fight Club, two of my favorite reads, but in the end I was disappointed. The story had a lot of potential but was missing crucial development.

The first problem is the format. Rather than using quotation marks, the author uses dashes to signify dialog. While I’ve read books formatted this way before, in a quick paced YA novel written from the first person perspective, the format is distracting at best and down right confusing during certain scenes.

It’s also unclear how far into the future the novel really takes place. The author cites 9/11, the Iraq War, Scarlett Johansson, and a book called The Mystery (which must be a code for the popular title The Secret), and one of Lyn’s neo-Gladiator step-fathers was a Vietnam veteran, but certain technology like the Living Machine – a virtual reality machine without the goggles, it projects famous celebrities and allows people to interact with them – is way beyond our capabilities. (There are problems with the description and aspects of the Living Machine in general – it’s a hologram of sorts, yet you can touch and feel the hologram as if it’s alive…but I won’t go into that.) Also, Glads have their own Glad Culture with certain established rules and bylaws which simply couldn’t be developed in only one generation.

Glad Culture has its own whole set of problems. The dowry bracelet isn’t really explained. Rather, we’re supposed to accept that there’s just this rule that no man except your father can touch your dowry bracelet or else you have to marry him. And we’re also supposed to accept that with that rule floating about, Lyn would give her bracelet to her step-father as a good luck charm when he goes into a title fight which he doesn’t seem very confident about. (If it was me, that bracelet would be under lock and key or super-glued to my skin.) Several of the other rules, aka bylaws, seem a little unrealistic, and the corporation controlling Gladiators, Caesar’s, seems as if it has too much power for modern government.

As a character, Lyn is interesting. She manages to deal with her mother, a sort of aging, bipolar Paris Hilton figure, who is either hopelessly annoying or tragically endearing. She also takes care of her brother, Thad, who is dubbed special needs and seems to have some combination of autism and psychic ability. (And Thad is actually my favorite character. I especially liked all his psychic predications.) Lyn is also tough and despite the pressure to conform and become another Glad wife, she wants to go to college and strike out on her own. But her relationships with the three central male characters in the book don’t seem to work well enough.

First, there’s Tommy, the step-father. Though I believe the author is trying to convey a loving father-daughter relationship between the two of them, Lyn’s disparaging remarks about Tommy’s relationship with her mother and her intimate conversations with just Tommy often made me wonder if she was actually sort of in love with him (which I don’t think is at all what the author was going for). Mark, Lyn’s best friend, who is supposed to be in love with her, doesn’t get nearly enough page time. I didn’t really get a sense of his character until there were only about fifty pages left in the book so just when I was starting to like him, the book ended. Then there’s Uber. (And I’m not going to go into how much his name irritated me.) On one hand, he’s klutzy, nervous around Lyn, whom he’s obviously attracted to, and tired of the gladiator life, even though he’s only twenty and considered a rising star. Under normal circumstances, I could understand why Lyn would have a crush on him and find herself attracted to him. But he killed her father, in a fight that didn’t necessarily have to end in death. And I just don’t think enough happens for Lyn to be able to overlook that and allow herself to be his friend let alone feel like she’s falling for him.

Though the last third of the book did start to suck me in, I felt the ending was a little bit of a let down. It came too quickly and neither Lyn’s plan nor its execution was explained well enough. The book stands alone, but I think the author left room to write a sequel, though if there is one, I don’t plan on reading it.

Some of the description and imagery, especially of some of the gladiator scenes, was very well written, and I must admit, I did like the parallels between Glad culture and the military. The author conveyed this mistaken romanticism people had about Glad life – young boys signing up to be gladiators only to cut their lives short or find themselves faced with the dreadful realism of having to live with the horrors of what happened in the arena. Overall, however, I found myself disappointed at the end.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't want this book. I NEED THIS BOOK!
i'm obcessed too, i can't stop to read, laugh and cry with them...
I love it!! :)