Girl in the Arena has a good premise. A bit of dystopia, some Roman influence, and a mite of romance. However, (don’t you just hate howevers) the execution was a little lacking and the ending…ugh. To put it nicely, the ending qualifies as one of the floppiest flops of all time, in my very humble opinion. But Wait! I’m not saying you should give up on this book entirely. It’s definitely not a classic, but it does have some entertainment value. And what I consider to be a flop might not be what you consider to be a flop. One woman’s floppy ending is another woman’s not-so-floppy ending, or something like that.
To be fair, this book is fast-paced and exciting. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy reading it. From the initial introduction of Gladiator Sports Association (GSA) to heart wrenching deaths and a disturbing final showdown, the plot of this novel moves at the speed of light. So the score is evened up, minus one for floppy ending, plus one for fast-paced plot.
Granted, this book does address some of the problems we face in the US and other countries. For instance, violence. You can’t turn on the news or pick up a magazine without news of some war or tragedy slapping you across the face. And it’s hard to hear sirens without worrying that someone you care about is the victim in need of help. As if there isn’t enough violence in the world, people then go see movies where heads roll and pain is entertainment. It brings to mind the French Revolution, when beheadings were an event for the whole family to enjoy. Well, the family can once again enjoy violence together by watching the gladiators duke it out to the death. Sounds pretty coldhearted, right? But when you really think about it, the jump between our society and theirs really isn’t that far. Lyn, the main character, details the evolution of the sport from backyard games to death matches between death-row prisoners to the bloody center of American culture. As is the true purpose of dystopian literature, Girl in the Arena points out a path that society could take, and makes the reader reexamine the world around them. I think that deserves five points in favor of Girl in the Arena.
Now on to the main character, Lyn. First impression: I like Lyn, she’s a strong, independent young woman who truly loves her family. But then she had to go and fall for the guy who murdered her seventh father. The guy she was going to be forced to marry. (Okay, I love a good arranged marriage romance, but I like them set on the western frontier during the 1800s. And I don’t like it when the guy in question killed the girl’s father. Although this is the only book I’ve ever read where that happens.) So the romance in this novel, that’s minus two points. If I’m correct the score now stands at 4 for and 3 against.
For details on the floppy ending, you’ll really need to read the book yourself, but I just want to say something about willing suspension of disbelief. Magic and all sorts of crazy stuff can be believable in a story as long as it is realistic to the world in which it is created. That’s willing suspension of disbelief. But the ending of this novel…it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit into the world that the author created.
The big picture: Don’t write off Girl in the Arena, but if you’re looking for the next Katniss, you won’t find her here.