The Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Lyn lives in a difficult world, one where the nation’s main form of entertainment is gladiator fights, much like those in ancient Rome. What started as underground fight clubs soon became a highly publicized sport with it’s own culture, full of drama, corruption, and pain. Lyn has recently turned 18, and is fighting her mother’s wishes that she attend Gladiator’s Wives College, and learn the hundreds of by-laws and rules that make a good gladiator wife. Her seventh father is about to enter one of his last gladiator matches before he can finally leave the violent life behind forever. Knowing he is worried, Lyn gives her father Tommy her dowry bracelet for luck in his fight. Unfortunately, Tommy is defeated, and his opponent Uber takes the bracelet as victory spoils. The bad news for Lyn is that by Gladiator By-laws, whoever holds a girl’s dowry bracelet must marry her.

Now that her father has died, Lyn must take care of her emotionally unstable mother Allison, never allowed to marry again, and her younger brother Thad, who is mentally challenged and oddly prophetic. With the help of her best friend Mark and his parents, Lyn schemes to get out of marrying Uber and win her freedom from a corrupt system.

I found this book when I was searching for something else in my library’s ebook library. When I saw the title, it reminded me of the Hunger Games, and since I couldn’t find the book I wanted I figured I would give it a try. Overall, it wasn’t a bad story. I liked Lyn, and thought she was a strong female leading character who stuck by her convictions though a lot of crap was thrown her way. I also thought Thad was an interesting character. It had an interesting social commentary on the violent and greedy culture of our times, and how frighteningly easy it would be for something like Gladiator sport to become popular in today’s United States.

Some things I didn’t like so much: I had trouble determining the time period of this book. In the prologue, the author talks about 9/11 and pop culture that suggests the 2000’s, but that doesn’t seem to fit with the alien-like virtual reality technology in the novel, and this inability to understand the time period really bothered me. I think it was supposed to be “present day,” but the technology just didn’t fit with that, and since the technology was an important part of the novel, that was awkward. Also (and I don’t know if this was just because it was an ebook) the dialogue was marked with dashes, rather than traditional quotation marks. This made no sense to me, and it was often difficult to tell whether someone was speaking out loud or having inner dialogue. This was especially difficult to follow when Lyn was talking to Uber, and I became very frustrated. If you’re going to be unconventional, have a reason.

I really want to recommend this book, but I just can’t. I thought the story was great, and that every young adult, or at least teenage girl, should read it. But I just can’t get enough past the inconsistencies in the time period, and the lack of “real” dialogue markings to say I loved this book.

Next on my to-read pile is “Insurgent,” the next book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, a dystopian series I already know is fabulous. I have been dying to get my hands on it and can’t wait to share my review!

Happy reading!

-Branwen

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