Panic by Lauren Oliver

A review of the thriller romance novel Panic by Lauren Oliver.

Panic is a Young Adult novel which flicks between the lives of two teenagers—Heather and Dodge. They’ve just graduated, but like many others in their year, and the years gone before them, they’re not going to college, or trying to get city jobs, or really doing anything. And so, the bored and futureless graduates of the small town called Carp entertain themselves, each and every summer, by playing an illegal game called Panic. Some of them enter for the huge jackpot money, which every student is bullied into paying throughout the year, while others have ulterior motives, like revenge or respect, or because they have something to prove to all the other teenagers in town, and to themselves. But I’m not even sure the term ‘game’ is quite the correct word for Panic, which is the harsh and perilous endeavour we see Heather and Dodge volunteer themselves into right at the start of the book.

This story is exciting and fast paced; not only switching between the lives and experiences of the two intertwined characters but also skipping through the whole summer and only stopping to focus on the most important, most emotional and terrifying days. And yet the speedy pace of this book is not what I have enjoyed the most, or even how close the third person accounts of the two characters’ lives are told, but it’s the depth of the characters themselves, their relationships with their closest friends, the mistakes they make, the misunderstandings and secrets, the happiness and elation, which are all so real and palpable it brings with it a mammoth tidal wave of teenage nostalgia.

I have seen it written in a reader review that this book falls into an obvious cliché within Young Adult literature: the ‘broken home’ trope. Both Heather and Dodge are raised by single mothers in accommodation they would rather not live in, and both have siblings they want to protect from some of the people of Carp, and at times, their own mothers. But I have to, and always will, fight strongly against the dislike of this trope, because if these characters came from clean homes, well-raised in loving families, would they have as much motivation to risk their lives playing Panic?

The one and only criticism I would give this brilliant read is that, in the first few chapters, a whole load of full names of other students are reeled off, some with a little back story, and I just couldn’t keep up with them all. Many of them crop up again later, and I really wish I had written them all down. But many other readers may not have had this problem, and so it could be blamed on my poor memory.

I would highly recommend this story for young adults and older readers who enjoy books such as The Hunger Games and Delirium. This story is richly drenched with vivid description of all the characters and their surroundings, but it’s reined in at just the right times and never becomes overpowering. This allowed me to build up my own image of the characters in my mind, and I got to really experience their moments of irritation, confusion, and of course, panic. The author, Lauren Oliver, has created such wonderfully realistic characters I could see their expressions and mannerisms, hear the tone of their voices as they spoke, and feel their every emotion. If this book were ever made into a motion picture I would be extremely pleased because, if it stays true to the story, it would be brilliant to watch.

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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