Arena / by Holly Jennings. 10.11.2017

Random House ISBN 9781101988763

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4 (Not Recommended)

Among virtual reality athletes, Kali Ling is the best. She glorifies in killing other gamers and putting on a bloody show for her fans. But as soon as Kali unplugs and returns to the real world, she feels out of her element. The celebrity life barely tides her over—provocative photoshoots, screaming fans, drugs, and extramarital sex—until she can return to the game.

Her handler dubs her first female captain in RAGE tournament history and life couldn’t get better…until she wakes up next to her overdosed lover/teammate.

The VR organization hides his cause of death, and Kali is traumatized by how cruel reality can be. Their new teammate seems to be nothing more than a pretty face, but Kali knows he’s hiding something.

With the pre-season ending and the fight for the RAGE championship beginning, Kali must reunite her team before she goes from the top of the gamer world to the bottom. But when you die hundreds of times like Kali, the bigger battle may be remembering which world is the real one.

Holly Jennings’s Arena paints a picture of the famous lifestyle that leads readers to understand why many celebrities turn to substance abuse and scandal to survive. Kali begins as a selfish, unlikeable character but develops into a dynamic teen who fights to overcome her addiction to the VR world by committing to a greater cause. Her teammates, though unchanging, are solid supports for Kali’s development, and the ominous pressure from her fans and the RAGE sponsors provide enough resistance for the change to seem challenging.

While this book cannot be recommended because of vivid violence, descriptive sex scenes, extreme substance abuse, and overuse of obscenities, the story arch for this Alex Award-winning novel is phenomenal. Through beautifully descriptive language, the book shares the dangers of virtual reality and great reasons behind why we should place our identity in more than the opinions of others and our jobs. Readers will feel compelled to hunt for overlooked atrocities and seek ways to correct them.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ