Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines.

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
Stand Alone
Young Adult, 336 pages
Published October 13, 2009 by Bloomsbury USA Children's Books

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.

Girl in the Arena sounded like a fun jaunt of a read when I first heard what it was about. A kickass heroine: Check. Fight Club-esque future: Check. Arranged marriage: Check. I'm always up for a kickass heroine, anytime and anyday. And my reading choices have been gravitating towards dystopian books lately. I just can't get enough. Complicated and dreaded arranged marriages always add up to lots of yummy drama and tangled romances. I was definately in. But Girl in the Arena was surprisingly different from what I was expecting. There wasn't much violence inside the book. I figured there would be many bloody gladiator matches, but in fact most of the matches only lasted a short time and ended before the blood could begin. Lyn was less kickass, more of a normal but strong young woman. And the book centered more on the repercussions of and the relationships inside the Glad culture.

The Glad culture is all Lyn has ever known. Her mother unknowingly married her father before she knew he was a part of one of the underground Glad groups, when the gladiator fights weren't established yet. Then a mega company, Caesar's, bought the group and started the official gladiator fights. Caesar's began to lay down rules for the gladiators and their families to abide by. One of these rules was that gladiator wives can only marry gladiators and that they can only marry seven times. Lyn's mother is up to her seventh husband, Tommy. When Tommy loses a fight (and his life) and his opponent takes her dowry bracelet, which means Lyn must marry him by Glad rules, Lyn decides she has had enough of these rules that govern her life for her. She challenges her would-be husband to a gladiator match, a fight to the death.

Girl in the Arena follows a parallel world that is very similar to ours. However, there are significant changes that make all the difference. In Lyn's world, people have accepted the Gladiator culture. The Glad families are kept at an arm's length from all the 'normal' people, warily regarded as perpetually violent and prone to using fists over democracy. But the gladiator fights have been made legal almost around the entire world. I feel like gladiator fights could be accepted in our world. I don't, however, believe that no one would challenge these fights even after they have been legalized. There would have been protests abounding. Opponents wouldn't go down without a fight. I also had some problems with the fact that stampedes and rushing the field were a common thing at these fights, even when people died as a result. Now if the government is the same, then they would definately investigate such things and strengthen railings, or something.

The world of Girl in the Arena is also a world where women, at least Glad women, have lost almost all of their rights. They have a hard time making money on their own. Gladiator men don't want their women off working; they want them at home like a good housewife, making them look good and helping them relax. Glad women in training go to a special college, where they learn these 'skills'. I think the contrast between these women and Lyn is what really made her stand out. She didn't want that for her life, but she didn't know how to tell her mother that the Glad life isn't the one she wants. Lyn is breathtakingly honest, especially with herself. She tells you the way she sees the world, no ribbons and bows pasted on top to make it easier to look at. The relationship between Lyn and her mother, Alison, was heartbreaking, so it was naturally the most interesting part of the book for me. Alison is the polar opposite of Lyn; she can't be alone, she must be composed and beautiful at all time, she depends on others to provide. I know many people who are like Alison, afraid of loneliness, so I could imagine many women being swept into the Glad culture for that reason.

Lise Haines writes gorgeously. She holds your attention because her prose follows Lyn's thought process. At times it's choppy, but only in the times when the action is fast-paced and many things are holding Lyn's attention. The only problem I had was that instead of quotions, Lise Haines used dashes. This was extremely irritating at first, especially for the grammar freak inside me, but I eventually got swept up in the story and ignored it.

I happen to love the cover for Girl in the Arena. I know some people have complained because Lyn undoubtedly has a full head of hair on the cover, while in the book she goes bald for most of the book. I think the cover is beautiful and (I'm ashamed to admit it!) is one of the reasons I bought the book. I also really enjoy the book trailer I posted at the top of the post. It's silly and completely unlike the book, but I think it has probably drawn some people to read it.

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