Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Panic is the latest gripping YA novel from Lauren Oliver. Carp is a struggling town in upstate New York, where the paper factory's closing placed 40 percent of the town's adult population on unemployment leaving few opportunities for young and old alike, which might be why Panic was invented. Panic is a game for all graduating high school seniors that begins the day after graduation when wannabe participants enter the game by making a jump from a 40-foot high ridge at the local quarry. Two secret judges plan the game, name challenges, anonymously deliver instructions and award or deduct points for challenges that grow riskier and more life-threatening the longer participants stay in the game. Everyone at Carp High pays into the pot, no exceptions, with Panic's ultimate victor taking the cash prize.

Heather Nill surprised herself by entering Panic; she's never been fearless or daring, but she is desperate; desperate to get herself and her kid sister Lily out of Carp's Fresh Pines Mobile Park and away from her struggling drug addict mom Krista and stepfather Bo. Dodge Mason on the other hand isn't afraid; he's been biding his time waiting for this day and nothing and no one can stop him. "He was going to win Panic. He was going to do it for Dayna. He was going to do it for revenge." Relying on the strength and support of her best friends, Bishop and Natalie, also a Panic participant, Heather will put it all on the line for the chance at a brighter tomorrow. Despite being pitted against each other in ever riskier challenges straight out of their worst nightmares, Heather and Dodge will form an unlikely friendship that will help them discover truths about themselves, reveal unexpected secrets about the game, and maybe even find love.

I really loved this book; I found it an exciting, engrossing and page-turning thrill ride from start to finish. The tale has definite undertones of Hunger Games, but given its contemporary real-world setting I found it a little more gritty and compelling. No reaping, tracker jackers or muttations to be faced in this YA odyssey, but a no less moving look at the gutwrenching hardships found in our own very real world - fear, hunger, and homelessness. Featuring two likeable and real protagonists that offer an inspiring message of hope to those that feel trapped, lost or forgotten.

Narrated by Heather and Dodge, the chapters alternate between the two points of view and are also grouped by challenge dates, helping to build the tension as the calendar draws nearer to the end of summer and the games dangerous culmination. The challenges themselves feature Fear Factor-type dares but all faced without the benefit of safety nets or fake bullets, with real consequences where the difference between success or failure means death.

I loved the dynamic between all of the characters, not only Heather and Dodge, but the story's supporting cast (Bishop, Nat, Lily, Anne) as well. Despite it being a YA novel, I still connected and could commiserate with Heather's initial feelings of self-doubt and admired her newfound strength and determination when she was no longer just fighting for herself. I think we all find untapped well-springs of courage and endurance when we carry the weight of someone else's happiness on our shoulders; even more so when that person is someone we love. I was equally won over by Dodge and his unquestioning loyalty to those he loved.

Panic offers an enjoyable story with real characters facing a high stakes gamble in which they've gone all in with the hopes of earning a ticket out of their troubled past and into a winning future.