Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

Genre: Young Adult - Adventure - Contemporary

Summary: 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.

Review: Just to get this clear straight off the bat, this is NOT a dystopian novel. Panic is much more akin to Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall than Delirium in that it is set in a realistic high school in upstate New York.

Panic is a game played by the senior class every summer after graduation. It is a high-danger, high stakes series of tasks that leads to the winner getting fame and glory in the small town as well as a pot of $67,000, and coming from such a poor town, that's a lot of money for an eighteen year old to start their life.

The first narrator we get is Heather, who comes from a poor family and doesn't have any real goals. She was just dumped by her boyfriend before the start of the book and Matt was her ticket out of town, so now she has nothing but Panic. In the course of the book we see her go from a quiet scared girl to a real contender in the competition.

Heather personally didn't interest me. Yes, we see her grow with panic, but we never actually saw her weak before, we're just told that she was. What's interesting that's involved in Heather's story is her best friend Bishop, with whom she's in love but has constantly been in other relationships. He seems like your pretty average nice guy, but without giving any spoilers, there's a bit more to him. Good twists and turns in his story line if you ask me.

The other narrator is Dodge. He was never friends with Heather in high school, but he's in love with her gorgeous best friend, Nat, and panic draws the three of them together. Dodge's reason for joining panic is much more personal. Two years earlier, his sister was in the last tasks of panic and the other contender rigged her car to crash, resulting in her being paralyzed from the waste down. 

We don't know this right off the bat, but as the story unfolds, we learn more and more that Dodge's singular reason for being in panic is to maim or possibly kill the brother of the guy who hurt his sister, who is playing this year. But this gets complicated by his feelings for Nat and his first time having real friends.

Nat, now...though she's not a narrator, she's a main character, and I just couldn't stand her. She's a backstabbing friend to Heather, plus she's terrible at panic. The narration is so dragged down by "Nat failed at this and Heather had to drag her along." As intriguing as Dodge's dark side was, Nat seemed oblivious to it, and even when it comes to light she doesn't seem to care. I don't know if that's an active choice in her character or Oliver just trying to make the story fit together, but I hated their dynamic and the resolution of both their stories.

Speaking of dynamics, the strangest thing about this story to me was the Dodge and Heather as the two narrators had no real relationship. Dodge says a few times that he enjoys Heather's friendship, but it feels stiff, like Oliver's just throwing it in there to make the two work together. Nat and Heather had a relationship and Nat and Dodge had a relationship--even Dodge and Bishop had one--but I never felt a real connection between these two.

Action is definitely this book's strength. The tasks, while not necessarily scary to read, would be terrifying in real life. Everything seriously jeopardize the players' safety and breaks the law. Meanwhile, there's a whole mystery about who the judges are (it's a tradition of panic that no one knows). So when some serious stuff goes down and the police need someone to blame, it becomes a cat and mouse game between the players and the judges about who will get pinned.

3/5 stars because there was an extra oomph missing from this book. Not as thrilling as Delirium and not as introspective as Before I Fall, but worth a read for Lauren Oliver fans.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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