Prior to reading Panic, I was tilting dangerously towards a reading slump. Honestly, I was nervous, because the reviews on this one have been mixed, and, when I’ve been blacksheeping the books everyone loves, how could this go well? Actually, Panic was just what I needed. It’s fast-paced, high octane, and a definite page-turner. Panic was the perfect antidote to a series of boring books that were sending me to the doldrums.
Panic centers on a game called Panic, in which seniors who have just graduated from school participate in a series of dares of escalating difficulty to win a huge pot of money. It’s been happening for years in their town, and is essentially like Fear Factor, only without all the safety nets to prevent death. Let’s get out of the way my skepticism about something this large in scale not having been caught in years prior, given how loud and obvious the teens are about it. However, it’s really interesting and I am totally willing to let that slide, sit back and enjoy the ride.
The game itself, however, I do mostly find believable, aside from the fact that they’re not nearly subtle enough for adults to not lock it down. The fact that teens would do absurdly dangerous shit for money is completely believable. I mean, teens will do completely dangerous shit FOR FREE, so a sixty thousand dollar pot would be pretty tempting. Actually, that’s the other thing I was confused about, because most of the people in this town seemed pretty poor, but the teens were paying a dollar per school day into the pot? Again, whatever, moving on.
Now, I was totally not one of those kids that would do any of these things. Hell to the no to playing chicken with cars or crossing a board and risking falling to my death. Even the inaugural challenge of jumping off a cliff into water, which is fairly safe, I wouldn’t do because of the vertical climb to get there. My friends weren’t these people either, but I still heard stories about what the cooler kids would do, like throwing stale donuts at cars, knocking mailboxes down with cars, and drag-racing (one such incident resulted in a girl at my school going to jail for manslaughter). None of these people made money for this, so they sure as heck would have played Panic for thousands of dollars.
Oliver tells the story through two third person limited perspectives, Heather and Dodge. The characters are, as expected, not the most likable in fiction, but the cast is interesting, which is the most important thing. Oliver also gave them some depths, back story to explain why they’re taking part in Panic that makes them a bit more sympathetic. People have motivations for their actions, which is always nice in fiction.
Panic has almost constant action and excitement. I called one of the twists, but then it added some nice dramatic irony. Though it’s 400 pages long, I devoured Panic, and it didn’t feel long at all. This isn’t remotely the kind of book I was expecting from Lauren Oliver, but I do like when author’s surprise me, and I really wanted an action-oriented read at this particular time.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Though I really enjoyed reading every page, I’m still not really sure what the point was. The ending verges too closely on an HEA and I’m not really comfortable with how few consequences result for all the people who participate in Panic. Sure, some really bad things happen, but for the scale of this completely idiotic game? Not really. Oliver does keep it from being a complete HEA, but, for all the heavy issues raised, the ending was a bit Noxzema commercial.
The other hesitation I have with Panic is the tigers. Now, I love tigers, but I don’t feel like they were really necessary here. I was somewhat skeptical about Anne, who is this awesome woman, taking in the tigers illegally anyway, but then the way they were used in the plot was even more upsetting.
The Final Verdict:
Do you like reality shows where people do stupid, dangerous things for money? Panic is that in book form. It’s a fun, fast read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This might not be the best choice for those who like their fiction firmly grounded in reality or their characters likable.