I had never heard of Holly Jennings or Arena before my library book club assigned it, but that’s the beauty of reading new books and authors you never knew existed. I am also not a video gamer at all, so the content is unfamiliar. Sometimes, I learn a lot, and other times, I learn to gut through a book in order to finish and be able to discuss it with other people. This book, I am afraid, falls into the latter category for me.
Kali Ling is an interactive gamer for a tournament. She’s part of a team which must capture the other team’s tower and take out the other team (cyber killing them) in order to win the match. They lose their first match and get thrown into a Losers Bracket, endangering their management and sponsorships. And then, tragedy strikes the team. Kali is thrust into a world of self-reflection and doubt, even as her team must regroup and she must come to terms with the time she spends in a virtual reality.
Honestly, I spent a great deal of this book being bored. Kali is not a compelling protagonist for a great deal of the book. Rooke is interesting, but he’s there as a plot device for most of the book, which: boo. We don’t spend a lot of actual time in the Arena. And so much of the plot/conflict feels recycled from other books. I do think there is a compelling and empowering message about truth and learning how to be mindful, which is why this escaped a two-star rating. The book does pick up speed as it continues, and the team’s interactions do become more fleshed out. But I don’t know if I would have finished the book if it was not a book club read. I also had Questions about cultural appropriation, and I’m not sure if the author is the right person to write this particular story and character.
Cross-posted to my blog.