Published: March 6th 2014 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
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Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand 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.
I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started to read Panic, but only one chapter in I knew the book had its hooks in me. The narration is brilliant, the premise is thrilling and haunting at the same time, and the characters are real in a way rarely seen in books.
There’s a game the graduating class of Carp play over the summer, a game called Panic. It begins with jumping off a cliff, ends with a joust using cars, and includes all manner of dangerous dares and challenges for those brave enough to play it. Although the winner gets money, and presumably healthy dose of pride, the challengers all play for different reasons.
Firstly, although I like the idea of the games in an abstract way, and think this story is told very well using it as a framework, realistically there’s no way Panic would have lasted as long as it did. The nature of the challenges and the dangers involved – sometimes resulting in someone getting seriously injured, paralysed or killed – makes it unbelievable that people turned a blind eye to Panic over many years, especially since it always happened at the same time of year. Yes, adults are usually blissfully unaware of most of the things their teenaged kids do, but it’s too much of a stretch to me to believe they didn’t cotton on to Panic in its second or third year.
Everyone’s reasons for participating in Panic are different, and everyone in the graduating class has secrets (which is odd, really, but OK). Some play for revenge, others for respect, still others for money. But one of our protagonists, Heather, plays for …. no reason at all. She decides to join after her douchebag of a boyfriend dumps her, for no real reason that I could figure out. It takes Heather more than half the book to articulate a motivation for taking part in Panic, and it comes externally – it’s basically handed to her by the other characters. She rarely made any sense to me and I spent most of the book wanting to hit her over the head with a frying pan.View Spoiler »I had a really hard time understanding most of what Heather did up until that moment she left her home with Lily, and then of course it was sweet to see her use Lily as her motivation to keep going. But why in the hell did she join up in the first place? Because of a boy? SHE COULD HAVE DIED, and she did it for a jerk of a boy? « Hide Spoiler
Although in hindsight I can see why Heather made the decisions she did, it took about half the book for the situation to fully coalesce around her, whereas the backgrounds and motivations of the other characters were clearer to me.
The other narrating protagonist (because this book is told in alternate POV, in close third person) is Dodge, who despite his silly name is my favourite character from the book. I understood Dodge, his desperation, his burn for revenge, his love for his sister, his loneliness and ache for friends, the torch he carries for Natalie. All of it was real and raw, and I really liked getting to know him better. He’s not perfect, but he’s well written.
Rounding out the cast are Bishop and Natalie, Heather’s best friends. Heather’s busy trying not to think of Bishop romantically for most of the book, and Natalie’s just plain lost. She really doesn’t know who she is when we meet her and it’s heartbreaking. But she finds herself, as do the other three, as Panic goes on.
I liked the feel of the small town and the desperation with which the graduating class tries to hang on to what is familiar to them. That’s basically what Panic is: a chance to get take risks and do stupid (extremely dangerous) things and bond before splitting up and going where the future takes you. The book is about the feeling of invincibility everyone gets when they finish school – it’s like the calm before a storm or a breath before a scream, some kind of eerie stillness in the atmosphere that allows Panic to exist.
What I absolutely love about the book is the writing. Everything is brilliantly realised. Every time Heather or Dodge take part in a challenge I felt my heart pounding right alongside theirs. I could feel the adrenaline, the fear, the desperation. The psychological impact of the game was also well conveyed, with the characters trusting one another less and less the longer they all stayed a part of it.
One thing that disappointed me was that I guessed who the judges were way too early. By the time Dodge started having suspicions I was already annoyed that characters were so slow.
I really liked Panic, despite it being so different from what I usually read and enjoy. I’d honestly forgotten how much I like Lauren Oliver’s writing. I think I’ll finally pick up Requiem sometime soon!Blogging Outside the Box is a feature at Speculating on SpecFic, where books outside the SFF banner are reviewed. It is intended to highlight some of the non speculative fiction titles I am reading and share my thoughts with readers.