**spoiler alert** This is the second time this year that I’ve read a book and gone “Huh, this sounds awfully familiar, didn’t I just read something li...more**spoiler alert** This is the second time this year that I’ve read a book and gone “Huh, this sounds awfully familiar, didn’t I just read something like this?” (Even though I read Dare Me about six months ago.) I’ve said before that I don’t have a problem with authors exploring similar premises, it’s all about how the author specifically approaches the material. I’m not a huge Lauren Oliver fan (I’ve only read Before I Fall prior to this, still not sure if I want to read if I want to read Delirium, but I am interested in her middle grade books), but the concept sounded interesting, and I wanted to see how the concept of “teenagers who do stupid, dangerous stuff because they’re bored” would work in someone else’s hands.
I will say this about Oliver, it’s that she’s a very atmospheric writer. The way she portrays the town of Carp does feel very realistic, and particularly the way she gets into why something like Panic is so tempting to play, even for a character like Heather. I really liked the fact that while Panic is known to the authorities and adults of Carp, it’s largely kept secret by the high school population, mainly through threats. It’s not to say that the adults encourage Panic, but it’s not spoken of until someone gets hurt. (That would have been an interesting angle to see, but seeing how recently Panic was invented in the book’s setting, there’s not a generation gap for the adults to look the other way.) And I do see the appeal of the game to these teenagers. They’re stuck in a dead end town, with few opportunities to get out, so a get-rich-quick, winner take all game would be tempting. And obviously, they can’t really do the same events over and over, so the stunts continue to ramp up in danger. And because they’re teenagers, they feel like nothing bad is going to happen to them—even in cases like Dodge, who has seen the consequences of Panic. (I’ve seen a few people complain that the money pot of $67,000 is too much for a poor town to cough up, but given the rules Oliver sets, it’s feasible to reach that amount at a dollar per student per day.)
Not to mention that Oliver is a very evocative writer, especially when it comes to the various stunts and once they begin to escalate. The whole time I was reading Heather’s individual challenge, or the freeway challenge, I was sitting there going NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. (Speaking as someone who’s been hit by a slow moving car while jaywalking, it’s not fun why would you cross a freeway blindfolded oh my god. That whole sequence, I was expecting someone to become a smear on the asphalt.)
And it’s why I don’t really fault Heather or Dodge for getting into the game in the first place. Although Heather does decide to join the game on a whim, her participation isn’t so much as proving how brave she is, but rather, her only way out of town and away from her junkie mother. I’m not a fan of why Dodge joins the game, but I can understand that he does want revenge for his sister, and feels that the only way in doing that is either killing or incapacitating Ray Hanrahan. And what I also like is that even though better opportunities are given to Dodge and Heather, they’re still stuck in the mentality that Panic is the only thing that’s going to get their goals. I really liked that Dodge is angry about Big Bill Kelly helping out his family and offering to pay for Dayna’s therapy; it made Dodge feel more realistic to me. I even liked that Heather felt that she wasn’t worthy to stay with Anne and her nice house. It’s a very unexplored mindset, in that Heather and Dodge want to prove themselves worthy of being adults and caretakers, but they can’t see anything beyond their methods to fix everything.
I liked both Heather and Dodge fine. They’re not spectacular leads, but they’re not terrible either. (And points for them not hooking up, but we’ll get to that.) I do like that they’re not likeable leads—I think YA demands that main characters have to be likeable, and I don’t necessarily agree with that. I liked that Heather has dubious reasons for joining Panic in the first place, and though I don’t like why Dodge joins, again, I understand it. I just wished they had more personality. With Heather, you do get the idea that she’s had to grow up fast, and that she cares a lot about her sister. And Dodge is just an angry kid, who’s had to watch this little town take away the only thing he’s cared about and he’s going to play their stupid game to blow it back up in their face. But other than their motivations, there’s really not much to either lead personality-wise—I never got a full grasp on either Heather or Dodge.
I didn’t like the supporting cast. I would have hated Nikki, mainly for the “I’m going to backstab my best friend because I wanna get out of here” gambit she tries to pull throughout the book, but she’s slightly redeemed by the fact that she’s the one who tries to stop Dodge. (Girls can be friends without being complete bitches to each other, people!) (view spoiler)[And then there’s Bishop. I liked him. I was rooting for him to get together with Heather. And then it’s revealed that he’s the one in charge of Panic this year. And that he didn’t really want Heather to play, but she did and now he has to put her in even more danger so no one can expect that he loves her. For the record, Heather’s personal challenge is Russian Roulette, and her father committed suicide via gunshot wound to the head.
WHY DOES HEATHER END UP WITH BISHOP? WHY? WHY THE HELL DOES THIS BOOK END WITH THE TWO OF THEM KISSING AND HAPPY TOGETHER? I don’t care how much they say they love each other, if anyone pulled that level of psychological torture on me, no matter what the reason, I would tell them to fuck off and get the hell away from them as fast as I could. Bishop doesn’t even give a reason as to why he didn’t try to resign his position when Heather joined! (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[This leads to my problem with Panic overall. For a book that spends so much time in the beginning setting up that “This is a game with consequences, and even the winners have to deal with the damage that they’ve caused,” there are no consequences in this book. Everyone walks away with a few superficial scars, Panic is going to continue for another year and they all lived happily ever after. I’m not saying that this should have ended with Heather dying in a fireball, but everyone gets off lightly. Bishop commits arson and endangering several lives, and gets community service for his trouble. No one ever realizes that Dodge sabotaged the car Heather drives at the end, and he gets to live grumpily ever after.
It’s especially glaring with the fact that with every year, the challenges in Panic get bigger and more dangerous, and yet, interference from the authorities is almost a non-issue. It’s mentioned at several points that someone informs the cops, but there’s really nothing done on the part of the town. And this could be chalked up to “Carp is a dying town, the cops don’t really care” except that the discovery of Little Bill Kelly’s body sparks a massive investigation, and Panic is brought up several times by the police.
This a book that needed to end with consequences, or at least an escalation to the point where the authorities would have to intervene. Again, I don’t want every character to end up in either a wheelchair or a body bag, but there needed to be something. And preferably not Heather making out with Bishop. (That is my biggest problem with the whole book, because no. Just no.) (hide spoiler)]
I really don’t know if I can ultimately recommend this. I am giving it a three star rating, mainly on the strength of Oliver’s prose, but I really didn’t like the developments of certain plot threads. (Nonspoiler version: I don’t think Heather should have ended up with anyone, the book would have worked fine without tying up romantic subplots.) If you like Oliver’s previous YA books, there’s a good chance you’re going to like this; however, if you’re unfamiliar with her work and do want to start with Panic, I would say you’d have to make up your own mind. There’s things that I liked about it, but as for a personal recommendation, I’d have to go with something else by her. I don’t outright hate this book, but the ending left a bad taste for me.
*Digital ARC provided by Edelweiss* ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)