Dystopian February: Girl in the Arena

Title: Girl in the Arena
Author: Lise Haines
Genre: YA fiction, Dystopian
Publication Date: 2010
Purchase Price: $9.00 (paperback)

As part of my 2011 blogging resolutions, I want to spend part of my time reading out of my comfort zone.

I usually do better with unpleasant tasks when I have a goal, and when I heard about Dystopian February I knew that it was now or never. I had a lot of trouble finding a book, and my review is happening a few days late, but I still think I’ve accomplished my goal.

The book

After doing some searching, I chose Girl in the Arena as my read. I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and was even more puzzled when I glimpsed the subtitle: A Novel Containing Intense Prolonged Sequences of Disaster and Peril.

Turns out that along with social commentary, there’s a fair bit of satire going on in this book as well.

Quick plot summary

Raised within the neo-gladiator culture, 18 year-old Lyn is well acquainted with battle, loss, and the rules and bylaws of the Gladiator Sports Association. Isolated within this subculture, Lyn is expected to come of age, attend the Gladiator Wives College, and become the perfect Glad wife. It’s the path that every woman is expected to take. But Lyn has something better in mind: independence.

But when her gladiator father is killed in combat, Lyn has two choices: marry her father’s killer, or fight him in the arena and gain her freedom.

Girl in the Arena is part dystopian, part satire, part fantasy — and all awesome.

A mish mash of themes

There are so many fascinating aspects of this book that I don’t even know where to start. True to YA literature form, there are two male characters that feature heavily in Lyn’s life: her best friend Mark, and Uber, the gladiator who kills her father in combat.

I thought I could guess how the “love story” aspect would go, and was pleasantly surprised: Haines creates a compelling story while avoiding creating yet another love triangle between characters.

This segues into another big theme: feminism. I’ve you read the comments on my review of Nightshade, and if you’ve been reading reviews in the blogosphere lately, you’ll see that this topic is especially big lately.

The bylaws that Glad wives and daughters must follow sound like something out of the 1950s. The girls even attend Gladiator Wives College, where they learn how to be model Glad wives. Unlike her few female friends and her mother, Lyn despises the entire setup:

“…I looked at this introductory video and I saw how shallow the women were, because everything, every last little thing, was about their future husbands. …They didn’t have anything else going, they didn’t want anything for themselves, for the planet.”

YA literature, and literature in general, is full of female characters who land squarely within this description, and I like seeing an author call attention to it.

The love of violence and its implications is another major theme. Although the neo-gladiator culture is by no means global in the world Haines has created, it is a powerful and influential group — and its leaders have nearly absolute power over those who subscribe to Glad culture.

Final thoughts

This is by no means an exhaustive review of Girl in the Arena, or of the dystopian genre.

I enjoyed the social commentary, and firmly believe that our culture’s apparent love of violence could easily lead to such a culture as is described in Haines’ novel. I’m glad that I grabbed Haines’ novel and reached my goal.

That said, I’m still not convinced that Dystopian is the right genre for me, mainly because it’s impossible to have a happy ending in such a genre.

Dystopian literature is meant to show readers the horrible situations in which we could end up if we continue down the path we’re on — and those horrible situations don’t have room for happily ever after.

Have you read Girl in the Arena? What do you think of Dystopian literature? Is there a genre that you just can’t get into?

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2 thoughts on “Dystopian February: Girl in the Arena

    1. Maaaaaaaybe. :p No, it’s not. I think the last sports book I read was a biography of Barry Bonds (a friend forced it upon me; it was god-awful). I view Girl in the Arena as less of a sports book and more of a fantasy/satire/dystopian, though.

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