OVERALL RATING: 4/5
Synopsis: Girl in the Arena is based in a world where gladiator 'Glad' sport has been resurrected from the days of Ancient Rome and is a violent subculture as popular and media-infused as modern wrestling. 18-year old Lyn is the step-daughter of seven Neo-gladiators and though she is not a Glad herself, she lives within the ever-present and often harsh light of the media and Glad-culture. Her mother Allison is a famous Glad-wife who can't seem to resist snatching up the next Gladiator husband the instant her former one dies a bloody death in the arena. Lyn's life consists mainly of taking care of her autistic brother, Thad, and trying to get into college so she doesn't end up becoming a Glad wife like her mother.
But when Allison's latest and last (according to the rules of Glad society, a Glad-wife can only have seven husbands) husband, Tommy, dies a vicious death at the hands of the young and upcoming Gladiator Uber, the family is left in ruin. For Uber emerges from the battle with Lyn's dowry bracelet, which she gave to her step-father before the battle. According to the rules of Glad society, Lyn must marry her father's killer.
Unless she can defeat him in the Arena herself.
Girl in the Arena was nothing like I expected. The synopsis on the back of the book sounds like it might be trying to ride the coattails of The Hunger Games, but the two books have little in common other than the premis where ordinary people are fight to the death. Girl in the Arena doesn't actually even take place in the future, but in an alternate reality where Glad culture is a sub-culture like Goth and Punk culture in our world. I also assumed the novel would be filled with high-adrenaline, edgy action scenes and bloody fights to the death in the Arena... once again, I was completely wrong. Girl in the Arena is a story about family relationships, about how much Lyn will and does sacrifice in order to protect her family.
Lyn's first-person voice is compelling and realistic-- she comes across as a pretty ordinary girl, and but she could hold her own in the Glad Arena. All in all, I give this book a good rating because it's well-written and edgy, a compelling read despite its surprising lack of gory battle scenes. There were a few things that kind of bothered me though. First, that on the cover of the book Lyn is dressed as a Glad, with her long brown hair cascading across her face. Now, don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful cover, but completely unaccurate, since in the book Lyn shaves her head after her step-father's death. No, the thing that really bugged me was the ending: it was a total cop-out, no way around it. I'm not going to spoil the ending, of course, but let's just say the tension of the climax goes from heart-poundingly tense to flat-line in about two paragraphs.
So, yes, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes science-fiction-type alternate worlds and societies gone mad and merciless (this is where Girl in the Arena is similar to the Hunger Games, not in the Arena itself). But if you're looking for fights to the death, hard-core dystopia, and invincible female heroines then go pick up the Hunger Games and its sequels, Graceling, or the Gone series by Micheal Grant.
Girl in the Arena is a somewhat haunting read which you will find yourself finishing in just a few sittings. It is the emotional turmoil and vivid, engrossing imagining of the novel which bring Lyn's world to life. It's full of surprises and twists-- one I never saw coming and drama of both the Glad and ordinary family varieties. Enjoy the cool alternate history of Glad culture and just be prepared for the flat-line end to the climax-- this book is worth reading despite it.
And even if you don't read it, you absolutely have to check out this bizar-- I mean, incredible book trailer.