And I call shenanigans on false advertising. Do not be swayed by the title, cover, and blurbs into thinking this novel is about a girl in the arena. Because there are 324 pages, see, and aforementioned girl doesn’t step into said arena until page 313. The cryingest shame of which is that people (like self) will be all, Oh, a Hunger Games knock-off and dismiss out of hand. Which, ALAS, because I loved this book pretty hard.
So. It is the future and gladiatoring is a sport and Lyn’s mother is on her seventh gladiator husband because gladiators have short shelf-lives (and actual life-lives) and once you’ve married Glad you can never go back. No, like, seriously. There are Rules. Like ‘never leave the stadium when your father is dying’ (Lyn is great at this rule, because of all the practice).
And this isn’t so much a gladiatorial novel with a YA protagonist as it is a YA novel wherein there are gladiators. Because there are a handful of battles, but the rest of it is all tragedy and humor and deeply uncomfortable situations and a teenaged girl dealing with her whacked-out but well-intentioned mom and nutty little brother, who prophesies (which is sort of morbid and sort of hilarious) and then a spoilerous MEGADECISION which the inside flap spoilers for you but which I will not spoiler for you, because I am generous like that.
I went into this expecting a Very Serious Novel About Oppressive Things And A Girl Who Takes Them On, With Brief Comic Moments To Relieve The Unrelenting Tension and was startled when this book opted to do a little jig from its soapbox instead. I mean, ok, no Jerome K Jerome, this. But little things, like ‘I help her clean up, and cleaning up soap is not an easy task because it keeps trying to clean the thing you’re trying to clean.’ Amusing, but also deeply insightful commentary on fame and society and etc and LYN AND HER FRIEND MARK HAVE THE BANTIEST BANTER! I want to be their pal.
There should really be more shouting in this review, because I dug Haines’ deal in a major way. Effusion, you fail me when I need you most.