Review: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

girlTitle: Girl in the Arena

Author: Lise Haines


Publication: Bloomsbury USA; October 13, 2009


Source: Library

Daughter of seven gladiators, Lyn finds herself in an unthinkable situation: Marry the man who slew her seventh father or fight him herself. 

Set in modern-day Cambridge, MA, Haines juxtaposes familiar landmarks and cultural references with a gladiator society that devolved from one man’s attempt to quell the country’s blood-lust during the Vietnam War.  What started as a harmless outlet for aggression (a la paintball), fractured into splinter groups of men (and even some women) using real weapons inflict injury and death on fellow competitors. 

Almost five decades later, Neo-Gladiators have secured their place in the modern world.  Arenas have been built in Boston and other cities and instead of going out to the ball game, families go out to see men fight to the death.  Part satire, part dystopian novel, Haines starts with a terrific premise and credible characters but falls short with the execution. 

A covert trip to New York uncovers Lyn’s father’s body being held for mysterious reasons, a young, special-needs brother with the ability to predict the future, two potential love interests, holographic technology, secret fighting lessons, and the promise of a to-the-death arena fight never added up to the story I was anticipating.

Haines created a strong and independent young female protagonist in Lyn–she’s focused on her future and her goals–but in contrast, her mother is weak, unable to stand on her own without the support of a man.

Stylistically, Haines forgoes the use of quotation marks, which I found a bit awkward, but that didn’t bother me nearly as much as the lack of real action.  Unlike the Hunger Games, which dedicates a good portion of the book to the actual game, Girl in the Arena didn’t offer up that type of dramatic plot–it was more like The Conflicts Lyn Faces on the Way to the Arena.

Overall, Girl in the Arena seemed to promise a bit more than it delivered.


  • At 2009.12.04 11:36, Meg said:

    Dialogue without quotation marks makes the editor in me cry — and the reader in me develop a massive headache! On that fact alone, I would find it hard to get through this one!

    The premise definitely sounds interesting, but I’m sure I would share your qualms with this novel… great review, Nat! Since I’m so into dystopian fiction lately (!), I might keep an eye out for it… but won’t be running out now 🙂
    .-= Meg´s last blog ..We’re so glad it’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ =-.

    • At 2009.12.04 12:10, The Literary Omnivore said:

      No quotation marks? My inner editor howls with rage. I’m curious about the “seventh father”- it’s the sort of fantastical aside that draws me into a book, but I think I’ll avoid this one in favor of The Hunger Games.

      • At 2009.12.04 14:06, Jessica Kennedy said:

        Great review. I too found the non-existent quotes distracting. And the lack of action was disappointing.
        .-= Jessica Kennedy´s last blog ..Contest Roundup: Dec. 1 – 5 =-.

        • At 2009.12.04 17:33, Kathy said:

          The lack of quotation marks bugs me. I don’t think this book is for me.
          .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Review: The Body in the Sleigh =-.

          • At 2009.12.05 18:18, Kay said:

            I’m not that annoyed by the lack of quotations marks, since here in French Canada, that’s how it’s usually done. When I started reading in English, I was really confused with all those marks!

            Sorry you didn’t enjoy the book though. I’ve seen more than one disappointing review and I’m not sure yet whether I’ll read this one or not.
            .-= Kay´s last blog ..Review : In a Perfect World =-.

            • At 2009.12.06 19:33, Biblio Brat said:

              I forget where I had seen this. I thought at the time it sounded interesting, but not quite enough to get it.

              I’m seeing now my reservations (and intuition) served me well.

              Sounds like I would have been very disappointed as I would have expected more action.
              .-= Biblio Brat´s last blog ..Bookstores Are My Kryptonite =-.

              (Required, will not be published)

              CommentLuv badge