Initial reaction: I really wanted to like “Panic” more than I actually did – some of it had measures where the character background and emotions were potent (particularly with Heather and Lily’s circumstances), but I was surprisingly unaffected by much of the novel despite the daredevil stunts and overarching game the teens played. You would think for something with such high stakes it would be more enthralling, but alas, for me? Not so much.
It’s been a while since I’ve read “Panic” and I’ve had some time to reflect about my thoughts about it. Verdict? This wasn’t as memorable of a story for me, though I did connect to certain parts of it. The title “Panic” has a central focus in the story, but it doesn’t evoke the very emotion that’s implied in definition very well. “Panic” refers to a game that high school seniors in the town of Carp play after pooling money together and, by the direction of mysterious judges, partake in some rather risky games.
Games being things like jumping off cliffs, stealing guns and other stuff from a person’s house, getting trapped inside a burning building, and walking across a highway while blindfolded. The game’s said to be a tradition in this little town, while being kept secret. In the end, there can be only one winner.
There were some plot details that didn’t seem plausible for this scenario (seriously, how did they get away with this stuff?), but I decided to suspend my disbelief and run with it. Oliver’s writing isn’t quite as well drawn in this book as it is in books like “Before I Fall” or even the “Delirium” series. Oddly, for a book with such decidedly high stakes, it kind of plodded along. The audiobook narration by Sarah Drew was just okay – I think I could’ve gone with the physical read alternatively if I’d had the choice to read it again. Sometimes her tone was a little shrill for the character emotional inflections.
The narrative has a third-person narration, with two main characters: Heather and Dodge. Each of them have their own motivations for playing “Panic” – which – in a narrative parallel – involve their families. I think Heather’s circumstances were a little more palpable for me personally, since I saw the relationship with her sister, the abrasiveness of their mother, and how they connected with the eclectic lifestyle and animal preferences of Ann, who takes them in during a difficult measure. With Dodge, his quest is more bent on revenge resulting from horrific circumstances in his family (which does take a positive turn later on, but Dodge still isn’t satisfied). It was hard to feel for his reasons because it was drawn so…shallow. Not to mention that his character really doesn’t change all that much (compared to Heather, who does have some growth, although more minute than it could’ve been). I’ll admit that despite some moments of purported intensity and conflict, the character study in this book was a little disappointing. It didn’t feel as rich or raw for me to believe in it, even during the moments of peril (and even resulting death!) that the characters encounter during the upped stakes.
It does aptly feel like a teen narrative as these characters take the “plunge” and engage in all of these different stunts. I really wish that I could’ve connected to the characters more, because I felt like the ending of the novel would make more sense with the narrative victory and the alluding to being able to take chances and reap the rewards of those chances with moving to the next step in one’s life. It had a good set-up, I just don’t think the narrative itself made the most of the space or pull. Oliver’s written more compelling narratives than this, and for me, this fell a bit flat. Not one of her best works, but I think moments of the novel had merit enough to stand on their own for what it aimed to show.
Overall: 2.5/5 stars.