Friday, March 23, 2012

Girl in 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. 
How Suzanne Collin's did not get a credit in this work is beyond me. I mean, she basically wrote the template for it. And I have to hand it to the author, it's a move well played. Take a wildly popular book, decompose it to its basic elements, rename characters, mix with a slightly new setting, bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes and serve immediately. 
I'm not exaggerating the similarities here, either. A strong teenaged girl loses her father, her mother can't cope, she needs to look out for a beloved younger sibling or they'll both starve and be homeless, she's got ambiguous feelings for a beefy male BFF, the establishment wants to turn her life into mass entertainment and has the ability to take everything from her if she doesn't go with it, and she's developing "feelings" for the guy she's supposed to face in the arena. Reads like a check-ist, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, this time the plot and character motivations just didn't gel. First off, the culture of the Glads (ouch, right? I know) is thoroughly unbelievable. Rather than building a post-apocalyptic scene or an alternate world or any other slightly more plausible explanation, Haines wants us to imagine this Gladiator culture happening in the hear and now. Then she whips out a dowry bracelet? Honey, please. And then there were those plot points and character motivations that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why does Lyn think becoming a gladiator is any less grotesque than marrying one? She is honestly going to march into the ring and kill a man she has come to think of as a friend? Because the thought of marrying a gladiator is beyond the pale? She's smart and resourceful and completely unable to see a more sane way of dealing with this mess? Honey, please.
Strangely, overall Lyn is a likeable character. She's got that nice mix of sarcasm, teenaged angst, beyond-her-years wisdom, and badassery that makes reading her both enjoyable and familiar (she's a lot like all the other action fighting women you see in YA these days, so it's template but done well even so). So the fact that she follows the prescribed plot actually makes the whole thing worse.

Lyn's relationship to her autism-spectrum brother is sweet and well written. Her relationship with Uber (Yes, his name is Uber. I know.) even has some potential. But again, that potential is unrealized, in this case because this is based on another work and dare not break the given mold (wherein the female lead cannot resolve her angsty lovey-dovey feeling in the first book, because that would kill the angst). I loved Uber as a character. An awkward, clumsy dork in thick glasses and sandals who can't help but profess his undying love for a girl is pretty hard not to love, if we're being honest. However, we are not being honest here. If we were honest, very nearly all of Lyn's decisions are ridiculous. As is the name Uber. (I know)
And then there was that ending. Look, we all know both Lyn and Uber will survive because, again, it's in the template, but if you thought the "dowry bracelet" was an insult to your intelligence wait until the last slap-dash few pages. Suddenly, out of the blue, Lyn gets hit with the stop-acting-like-an-idiot stick and does what she should have done the moment her mother bowed out of the scene. Somehow, the rationality of that decision makes the rest of the plot all that much more unbelievable. I just don't have any suspension of disbelief left in me for this one.
Rating: One strappy Glad sandal.

No comments:

Post a Comment