Not everyone hated it, of course, it has an average rating of 3.01 on Goodreads.
I can't even defend the negative things pointed out about this book:
- Trying to profit from the Hunger Games hype ✓
- Vague worldbuilding ✓
- Contrived set up for romance ✓
- Too much drama ✓
- Absurd pop culture references ✓
- Weird formatting ✓
Well, that last one I can kind of defend. The thing is, the weird formatting thing of which so many people complained, where dialogue is introduced with a dash and no quotation marks... that's how we do it in Portuguese, so I guess that one could never really bother me. And I don't know why it bothers other readers so much, I grew up reading every line of dialogue in every book like this. When I switched to reading books in English it didn't bother me at all that is was different.
It's a complaint I equate to those of people going, "No, I don't like to watch films with subtitles" - almost every film has subtitles for me! Just go with it!
I thought it was a fluke - that I had liked it and most people hadn't - so I reread it later, and reread it again. So, I read it a total of 3 times and I still like it. There has to be something good about it, surely?
What I liked (SPOILERS!!!):
- I liked that Lynn was so protective of her mentally challenged brother, in a realistic way. At the time it was written there weren't many disabled characters in YA (there still aren't) and the family's struggles to deal with him were real and informed. Even with the Hunger Games comparison, we get Katniss' need to protect Prim, but Prim never really shows up as a character in her own right. She's just this progressively abstract ideal Katniss needs to protect. Lynn's brother Thad is present in the story, he's real, his needs are real.
- No love triangle!! Yay! Seriously, it's so rare!
- The romance, if you can even call it that, was handled very well. Yes, it was absurd the way it started: Lynn's father is a gladiator and, for good luck, she gave him her dowry bracelet to wear in combat. Uber killed him and picked up the bracelet, by the Gladiator games' rules he and Lynn are now engaged. Lynn was obviously not interested at all - I mean, shack up with the dude who killed your dad? No, thanks. Uber was horrified at having killed his idol and felt the responsibility to marry Lynn - his actions had left the family destitute and there was her brother to take care of. He never insisted, he just courted her according to the rules, but very subtly you can see he grows to like her, even if she doesn't reciprocate the feeling.
- Lynn's final decision - I can't tell you what it is, it's too much of a spoiler. But I thought it was very mature and responsible and left the door open for other choices when the time came and she felt ready for them.
I don't know, it just worked for me.
It obviously doesn't work for everyone, and I can see why.