Hardcover, 416 pages.
Release date: March 4th 2014.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
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.
Kids will do just about anything to get the hell out of Carp…
For Heather, the high-stakes game of Panic is all about escape; escape from a recent heartbreak and from her crappy trailer-park lifestyle. Dodge, on the other hand, doesn’t care about the money on offer: he just wants revenge. Dodge’s sister lives out her days in a wheelchair thanks to Panic. Now, it’s payback time.
Lauren Oliver’s new offering, a gritty contemporary tale, recalls Stephen King in its depiction of disillusioned youth in a claustrophobic, no-hoper town. Because of its blurb, many have wondered if Panic is Oliver’s take on The Hunger Games, but it’s not like that at all. Panic, though bleak in is setting, is not dystopian fiction. The storyline here is pretty straightforward. Basically, the kids of Carp don’t have all that much to keep them occupied, so they invent a game for that very purpose. Year after year, the game of Panic takes place, and the winner, who takes all – a cash sum usually totaling in excess of $50,000 - uses those winnings to escape to the bright lights of various big cities. A secret duo of judges set an increasingly dangerous range of tasks –featuring everything from blindfolds to guns, to randomly, a duo of tigers- and whoever is last-standing, wins.
Panic could have been good. Oliver’s writing, as always, is beautiful, but there’s something lacking in this one. As I read Panic, I found that I just didn’t really care at all about the characters. In a book like this, where lives are at stake, you really need to care: and I never did. It doesn’t help that the other participants in Panic, who should pose a major threat to Heather and Dodge’s very existence, are never fully realized. Oliver shares their names, but we never get to know their faces. Panic reads frantic and even a little rushed, and the characterization is lacking, to say the least. Both Heather and Dodge bring little to the table beyond their shared crappy home lives and their romantic yearnings; Dodge has a crush on Heather’s beautiful best friend, Nat, while recently-dumped Heather is crushing on her best-friend since childhood, Bishop.
Oliver amps up the tension in the final third of the book, and in the final challenge of Panic in particular, things definitely reach life or death stakes. But it all feels like too little, too late. For most of the book we have been fed predictable plot twists, and lackluster characters, and, for me, at least, Panic failed to make or leave much of an impression. It doesn’t help either that as the book progressed, I found myself liking Heather less and less. She’s willing to risk everything for Panic, and is selfish in her pursuit of the prize, even putting the lives of animals at stake (something which is never okay with me!) So, if Heather is meant to be the heroine of this piece, then that really didn’t work out for me. I appreciate that she has a tough time at home; but while Heather might be from a small town, she needs to open her mind a little more to the lives of others and to the world around her.
It’s strange for me, to love a writer’s words so much –the last lines of Panic, in particular, are beautiful- and yet to feel totally disengaged from a story and its characters. That said, I’ve also talked at length about Oliver’s style in the Delirium series, and yet, I never fell in love with those books either. The TV adaptation of Delirium never got off the ground, but if Panic makes it to screen, I think it could work well as an action-focused movie. I’m hoping that Rooms, Oliver’s next offering, and her first book for adults, will be a better fit for me.