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Panic by Lauren OliverTitle: Panic
Author: Lauren Oliver
ISBN: 9780062014559
No. of Pages: 416
Genre: Young Adult; Fiction
Origins: HarperTeen
Release Date: 4 March 2014
Bottom Line: Outstanding

“Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a poor town of twelve thousand 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.

In this gritty, spellbinding novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver delivers a gripping narrative of friendship, courage, survival, and hope.”

Thoughts: The setting of Panic is bleak. The town is poor; its residents are rough. There is an entire area in this small town denoted as Meth Row, a huge indication as to the type of activities of which many of the residents partake. For many kids, Panic is the only opportunity they will ever have to earn enough money to get out of Carp and seek other opportunities. Because of this, there is a sense of desperation among the players that is quite depressing even while it is understandable.

Fueling the air of despondency within the novel are the individual stories of the players. The poverty of each is unimaginable, but their personal histories are particularly heartbreaking. These are kids exposed to the worst that life has to offer but still fighting against similar fates. It is no wonder they each take their chances in Panic – because they have seen the alternative up close and personal and refuse to succumb to the miseries life has already provided them.

At the same time as readers understand and sympathize with each of the players, their reasons for playing, and the personal obstacles they have to deal with when not playing the game, Ms. Oliver turns Panic into a harrowing version of “Would You Rather.” However, in her version, the choices are not disgusting but insanely dangerous. The fact that kids knowingly put themselves through these types of challenges, especially with the knowledge that more than one person died playing the game over the years, highlights the kids’ boredom and neediness. For all of them, Panic is not just a method by which to earn bragging rights, it is seriously their last option for a better life. The danger is astonishing; their misery is even more so.

Not all with Panic is bleak. There are some very beautiful moments as well. Heather’s love for and fierce protection of her sister are particularly poignant, while her long-lasting friendships are sweet. Heather is an amazing character – independent, practical, and strong although underneath she hides a vulnerability and loneliness that one aches to ease for her. Dodge is less forthright and therefore less sympathetic a character, but his love for his sister is incredible. His memories of better times will bring a smile to a reader’s face.

With Panic, Ms. Oliver proves why she is one of the leading YA authors today. The tension within the story is outstanding. The characters are achingly realistic and the choices they must make are significantly excruciating. Each challenge is better, and more disturbing, than the last. Because the stakes are as high as they can possibly get, the anticipation and suspense never truly breaks. Much like the proverbial car wreck that one must slow down to observe, readers cannot fail to be drawn into this intense and thrilling story. It is a powerful read, one that haunts readers for a myriad of reasons.

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