Review – The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon by Jenni FaganTitle: The Panopticon
Author: Jenni Fagan
ISBN: 9780385347860
No. of Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction
Origins: Hogarth
Release Date: 23 July 2013
Bottom Line: Dark, intense, and tragic


“Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood.

Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counter-culture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.

Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon – they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.”

Thoughts: The one thing that will impress the reader the most upon finishing The Panopticon is the pervading sense of injustice. While most legal systems consider a suspect innocent until proven guilty, the court officers assigned to Anais’ case never even flirt with the possibility that she might be innocent in the policewoman’s assault. The unfairness of her treatment at the hands of the very same adults who are supposed to be looking out for her best interests is the real tragedy in a story filled with depressing and upsetting stories.

Anais is somewhat archetypical but no less effective in generating interest and sympathy. The psychological impact of having lived in the foster system since birth alone provides some hint as to the delicate nature of Anais’ feelings and sensitive state of mind. For all her tough exterior, she desperately seeks what everyone takes for granted – love, shelter, and safety. The true tragedy is that the adults in her life utterly refuse to look beyond her outward appearance and see the intelligent, capable, and extremely lonely little girl she is.

Anais is a fighter. She might have a miserable past and a penchant for drugs and alcohol, but she just wants a chance. The Panopticon may be the system’s version of a last-chance option before total incarceration, but it is Anais’ first real chance for friendship and even happiness. The impromptu family established among society’s misfit children provides a sense of belonging and understanding that serves to help her break out of her anti-social shell and begin to trust again. It is a transformation that fills a reader with hope, only to have that hope crushed at the bias shown by the adults in her life.

The Panopticon is not for everyone. The language is understandably very rough, and the subject matter is quite upsetting at times given everything that happens to Anais and that she does to herself. The self-fulfilling prophecy that is her behavior is frustrating and difficult to watch unfold. Still, as bleak as the story is, the reader still glimpses slivers of hope – hope that Anais can turn her life around, hope that some adult will take her under his or her wing and provide her with the type of nurturing environment she needs, hope that she is not already irredeemably lost to a system that cannot cope with the multitude of children in need. Through her anti-hero, Ms. Fagan manages to shed light on these children and condemn the social system designed to help them in this stark, thought-provoking novel.

11 Responses to Review – The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
  1. Andi @ Estella's Revenge
    July 18, 2013 | 8:28 AM

    This one is winging its way to me, and I have high hopes!

    • Michelle
      July 21, 2013 | 6:35 PM

      Yay! I think you are going to love it!!

  2. Carrie K.
    July 18, 2013 | 10:22 AM

    I have a review copy of this on its way – hoping it’s not too dark for me, after reading your review.

    • Michelle
      July 21, 2013 | 6:35 PM

      Eh, maybe? It isn’t as disturbing as Tampa, but there are elements to it that are upsetting. She is so nonchalant about drug use and selling her body for drugs; it can be a bit much at times, but I loved it.

  3. Jennifer
    July 19, 2013 | 7:03 AM

    This sounds like just the dark and twisty sort of read that I really dig. 😉

    • Michelle
      July 21, 2013 | 6:34 PM

      Very dark, not-so-twisty, but excellent all the same. Yes, I think you would enjoy it!

  4. Ti
    July 19, 2013 | 8:54 AM

    I was asked to do a tour of this, but after reading a sample felt that the dialect would give me problems. However, everyone is talking about and when the publisher asked if I wanted a copy yesterday, I said yes. So I hope I can get over the dialect and appreciate the writing.

    • Michelle
      July 21, 2013 | 6:31 PM

      I honestly didn’t notice the dialect all that much. The language is pretty atrocious, if that sort of thing offends you, but it fits so well with the character. I do hope you enjoy it. It is one of those books I hope gains a lot of attention.

  5. Lisa
    July 19, 2013 | 10:42 PM

    Sounds like a interesting read, very different read.

    • Michelle
      July 21, 2013 | 6:29 PM

      It is. It might be similar to Bad Girl but I enjoyed this one much more.

  6. […] I saw that Michelle at That’s What She Read had reviewed The Panopticon, I was especially interested in what she had to say, as I knew a review […]

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