Their eyes, which looked so wise – so bleak, too, as though they had stared into the centre of the universe and found it disappointing, a feeling Heather completely understood.
Graduating seniors in Carp have one last rite of passage before leaving their small town for the big wide world; Panic. A game shrouded in mystery and played every summer, Panic pits students against each other in the ultimate test of mind over matter. People die playing Panic, risking everything for smalltown fame and a huge jackpot, and this year it’s Heather, Nat and Dodge’s turns.
Heather, Natalie and Bishop have been best friends since forever, but this summer of Panic will change everything. Natalie wants to play to fund her move to become a model and Heather throws herself into the first challenge before she even stops to think why she’s doing it. Dodge, an outsider, a loser, longs for revenge.
It would have been very easy to categorise each character into a stereotypical box, and at first it seemed like Oliver was going down that path. Dodge was the loner in love with the gorgeous popular girl, Natalie was vain and naive, Heather: angry at the world… However, I really liked how each character grew and changed to break out of those boxes; the narrative very quickly chipped away at those veneers to reveal both the flaws and the strengths of each individual and their true motives for playing Panic. All the characters transform to complete a full arc of change and no one is the same person beginning to end. I loved this inversion of the expected and was pleased to see some vulnerability in a female protagonist; they’re allowed to be imperfect yanno!
The writing style makes for a nice and simple read; it’s a very easy to digest book and I think it would be perfect for a lazy holiday. I really felt like part of the story from the way Oliver’s style drew me in, I could honestly feel my heart beating and fear rising while I read some of the challenges the players had to complete. I think Heather’s individual challenge actually made my heart stop!
While the tasks themselves are unique and genuinely terrifying, I felt the basic plot followed the recent trend of teenagers being put through their paces á la The Hunger Games and Divergent. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that and it was nice to see that theme realised in a realistic, everyday setting (it certainly made for a more immediate and scary read).
PANIC is very well paced and I enjoyed reading the story from two different perspectives, especially two characters with such different views and underlying motives. Heather and Dodge both make for great narrators and I didn’t find myself wanting to skip ahead to my favourite character like I’m sometimes tempted to do with other multi-narrated books! PANIC drips and dribbles clues throughout the story, so while I didn’t feel spoon-fed I definitely wasn’t completely surprised by some events and revelations.
I really enjoyed PANIC and would absolutely recommend it to lovers of YA and suspense. It’s not your typical high school story and the characters and their actions really sets PANIC apart. I will definitely be picking up other books by Lauren Oliver!