I first read Lauren Oliver a good few years ago, picking up Before I Fall (or maybe Sinéad picked it up, I don’t recall…) in a bookshop and thoroughly enjoying it. The Delirium trilogy followed not long after, and while I enjoyed them all (Requiem reviewed here), I didn’t think that the dystopian trilogy really lived up to how good Before I Fall was.
Panic, then, is a return to modern-day, to a quiet and hot small town in America, and a bunch of bored teenagers participating in a high-stakes game which has the potential to change everything for them.
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.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, racing through it on a plane journey home, I think, before handing it over to Sinéad, as she has the rest of the Olivers in her bookcase.
It was strange, I have to admit, to read an Oliver book which was completely, totally realistic – the dystopian Delirium trilogy, of course, is full of technological advances, Before I Fall has the surreal repetition of the same day several times, and even Rooms, Oliver’s recently-released Adult novel, is a ghost story. Half the time, while I was reading this book, I was expecting something other than gritty realism.
That’s not a disadvantage, though. Oliver writes realism very well – the heart of her books are the human interactions, which remain the same regardless of whether they’re in nowhere town Carp or Appalachia, many years from now.
The characters are the best thing about Panic – you really feel like you’re getting to know these four teenagers, in tat in-between time after high School has finished, but before college starts, in a hot and hazy summer, playing the game of their lives to win big, and get away from this backwards town.
The romance, too, in Panic felt lightly handled, not overdone, and just the right kind of blind ignorance that teenagers have (and adults, too) about how others feel about them. I thoroughly enjoyed Panic. It’s definitely, in my opinion, the second-best of Oliver’s books, ranking above Delirium, but below Before I Fall which, as you may be able to tell from my earlier review, I think is a masterpiece.
I had only a few small complaints about Panic, one being a twist which was obvious from the beginning, and the other being the sheer unlikelihood of certain events coming to pass in the way they did, but in fiction, you have to suspend disbelief sometimes. Nothing massive, and certainly not enough to mar my enjoyment of the book, or stop me from recommending it quite happily.
The Goodreads reviews complain about Panic’s blurb reading like The Hunger Games. It’s not. It’s totally different, and not better or worse, but certainly don’t go into this book expecting the Hunger Games, because you’re doing a disservice to this book, which stands admirably on its own merits.