Synopsis: Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.
Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.
Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.
For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.
Huge thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Teen for this advance reader copy.
Panic easily has one of the worst blurbs I’ve ever seen, as it truly doesn’t tell you much about what to anticipate in the story other than it’s a scary game teens play…
… and what a game it is. What the blurb doesn’t tell you is how adrenaline ridden and emotionally exhausting this novel is. Once again, Lauren Oliver gives us these very well realized individuals with their own ideas of how Panic has the power to take one’s thoughts over. When you think about how much money someone can gain from participating in a teen version of Fear Factor, you can only imagine the desperation they must be feeling to activity seek self-harm. While I won’t spoil any of the games played, I will note how uncomfortable a few instances of the novel felt because you knew if someone failed, it would be pretty gruesome.
Unlike many of Oliver’s other novels, this one is written in two perspectives, but in third person. This actually took some adjusting for me because I’m so used to Oliver’s prose flowing a particular way — here the two perspectives work as both Dodge and Heather have different reasons for their active participation.
This book is dark, and much darker than some of Oliver’s other works. There’s definitely an atmosphere of doom and gloom without any hope. This book is NOT dystopian in nature (which I am thankful for), but rather it functions more like a blood sport novel akin to Battle Royale or The Long Walk, only the gore is much more minimal and murder is not entirely the objective (which, admittedly, I appreciated as a change of pace). I think those comparing this to the Hunger Games are doing themselves a huge disservice as the two texts couldn’t be anymore different.
Usually I find Oliver’s characters somewhat frustrating in her YA novels (and lovable in her Middle Grade works), but weirdly I found myself really loving both her male leads Bishop and Dodge. I found their reasons for participating to be fascinating, as some took very generic reasons and made them much more meaningful. The female characters on the other hand, I found very frustrating, though not unlikable. Some of their actions are very silly, but done with the fact that they are driven by their emotions and fears, so it worked for me.
This book is ridiculous in so many ways and to the point at times where you might ask yourself “Did Lauren Oliver really go there? She did, didn’t she?” These crazy elements will feel very familiar if you treat this book like it’s a blood sport novel or like Fear Factor. It works and justifies itself, even if it sometimes doesn’t suspend your belief enough.
I don’t think Panic is as strong as Oliver’s novels, but I feel like the emotional tension and draining were worth the effort, and the atmosphere elements truly make it stand out in a crowd as unique novel within the YA contemporary genre. I’m interested to see if Lauren Oliver will produce another novel in a similar vein, because I truly enjoyed Panic more than I thought I would.