Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Girl with Guts

Girl in the Arena
What if history took a strong turn away from its current path? What if that turn in history slowly led to the legitimization of modern day gladiators. Not the gladiators with foam swords and colorful arenas, of course, but instead the same gladiators who fought to the death with ferocious animals and other gladiators. The same gladiators who were bound by their servitude, either as slaves or through contracts. These gladiators are one and the same. The only difference? The gladiators from Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines are present day fighters- complete with technology and all the other trappings we have these days. They are "neo-gladiators".

Lyn grew up in the glad culture. Her father started fighting on the streets in underground glad events and was eventually one of the first legitimate glads... until he was killed. Then Lyn's mother remarried- another glad. In glad culture, glads, their widows, and their children stick together. Glad widows often remarry other glads, but seven is the limit. When Lyn's 7th glad father is killed in the ring by an up-and-comer, Uber, something goes horribly wrong. Lyn gave her stepfather, Tommy, her dowry bracelet to wear for luck in the arena. When he is killed, Uber picks up the bracelet and puts it on, and glad laws clearly state a man who puts on a woman's dowry bracelet is then betrothed to her. Now Lyn is expected to marry her father's killer.

Lyn refuses to follow glad bylaws just to appease Caesars, the company that owns and runs the gladiators and their events. She intends to fight Uber to the death to protect her mother and brother (who is described as being autistic but never labeled as such) as well as regain her freedom. Family glad friends help her train secretly, and she remembers a lot from her stepfathers who taught her fighting techniques over the years. There is only one problem, though. Uber isn't a bad guy. In fact, he adored her stepfather he was supposed to kill. He also hates Caesar's as much as Lyn does. And he wants to marry Lyn... for real, not just for the bylaws. Now Lyn must find a way to win in the arena without killing a man who doesn't deserve to die.

This is a very interesting book with an amazing premise, but at times it falls a little flat. I loved the characters, especially Lyn and Uber. The supporting characters like Lyn's mother and brother are also fascinating. Her mother is a tragic character who can barely keep herself together, and her brother is perpetually teetering on the edge. The plot is thoughtful and novel, but it stretches out a bit in certain places. My biggest complaint was the ending. While the book ended the way I wanted it to, it was rushed through in a brief few pages- I wanted more! We spent a couple hundred pages learning about Lyn's training and the most exciting part- the last battle with Lyn and Uber and its aftermath- are rushed through! It seemed like a waste of a good climax to end it so quickly.

As a whole, I would give this book to a student who is more comfortable reader and can wade through an occasionally slow part in a story. The premise is incredible and can lead to so many amazing discussions with students- especially about violence in our society. The author is also very nice and very open to conversations with students about her book! It would be an incredible experience to hook her up with a student and let them pick her brain about the story!

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