Lauren Oliver is one of those authors that manages to write books that are all completely different, both in subject matter and tone, but are still recognisably written by her. It’s something about her voice, I think – her writing is very unique… and it is completely captivating. Panic is no exception – it is a well-written, gritty account of that awkward teenage time between school and college.
Panic‘s plot seems a tad less interesting (on the surface only) than Before I Fall (which is hauntingly beautiful, and about a girl who must re-live her last day seven times) and her Delirium trilogy (a sci-fi dystopian that manages the balance between romance and action exceptionally well). There are no fantasy or science fiction elements in Panic – it is simply about a game played by graduating seniors, albeit with very high stakes. Nevertheless, there is something about this book that leaves you with a breathless feeling.
Heather is a character who is easy to connect with and to aspire to be like. She isn’t particularly fearless, yet overcomes huge challenges (both in the game and in her personal life) with admirable resilience. Like on a reality TV show (which Panic‘s game is not – it is underground and constantly threatened by the police), contestants team up, Heather forms an alliance with an old friend and a new one. Friendship is a strong theme through the book – Oliver deals with how easily friendships can be damaged, and how real friendships can repair themselves. But the relationship that stayed with me was Heather’s relationship with her sister. Heather faces challenges that were far bigger than the game she is playing, and gets through it all because of her need to protect and care for her sister.
The game itself (also called Panic, like the book’s title) is interesting in itself – and addresses exactly what people will do for money, but it is a representation of the real-world hurdles that teenagers suddenly have to overcome as they move out of home, get jobs, find love, and grasp at the future. The story behind Panic, and the character’s journeys, are the real meat of the story, and a completely engaging read.
If you enjoyed Lauren Oliver’s other novels, chances are you will enjoy Panic as well. Before picking it up, make sure you have a decent chunk of time to devote to it. It will have you on the edge of your reading nook, attempting to finish it in one sitting – it is that addictive.