Arena by Holly Jennings
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In this dystopian scifi thriller, video games have become a national pastime sport, with tournaments broadcast on television networks and the players in these virtual worlds are just as famous as athletes are in our world, larger-than-life superstars with high end sponsors and all the fame and notoriety that goes along with those roles. Kali Ling, a member of Team Defiance, the number one team in the virtual gaming world until an unexpected and overwhelming defeat in the semifinal rounds of the RAGE tournaments, becomes the first female captain of a RAGE team in its history. She is also of Asian descent, so she also has to deal with that aspect of her life in the gaming world as well.
This is all set up fairly early on, after the Team Defiance upset by an unknown team. The team is sent out to the clubs by their sponsors to make sure that everything still seems normal. After a night of partying, Kali's teammate and friend-with-benefits, Nathan, ODs on the drug HP and dies. She's clearly torn up about this until Nathan's replacement is introduced the next day. (Nathan who?) Burdened with everything the virtual world throws at her, she too turns to drugs and sex and wild living, until she realizes that she's slowly throwing her life away. (Hello, after school special).
Overall, there was a lot of potential here, but I felt it got bogged down in trying to redeem Kali. The gaming world seemed really intense, given that anything that happened in VR, the players felt IRL. However, the games themselves didn't seem all that exciting; I guess I was just expecting more from the VR gaming world here, other than what felt like glorified capture the flag, but with swords and virtual death. I also felt that Jennings was having a hard time deciding what type of book this was supposed to be: was she going for edgy YA? Moral lessons wrapped in adult ambiguity when it comes to sex, drugs, and clubbing? Spiritual coming of age? I also felt that Jennings was trying far too hard to make everybody happy, and checking off all the necessary ticks on a list: Female lead? Check. Character of Asian descent? Check. Lesbian couple? Check. Black character? Check. Making sure female lead is a total kick ass character? Check.
To be honest, by the end of the book, I found myself skimming huge swaths of text, as I really just wanted to get to the end of the story, and I didn't really care all that much about what happened to anybody. Clearly, this book just wasn't for me.
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