Rating: 2.5/5 stars.
Panic: a game played by graduating seniors in the dead-end town of Carp, where all contestants must face their worst fears – and each other. Heather never thought she would participate in Panic, but when her broken heart finds a new cause to fight for, she readies herself for the ride of her life. Dodge, on the other hand, does not feel scared of Panic; he wants revenge, and that thirst will drive him throughout the game. Amidst the near-death experiences thrust upon them by the judges of Panic, both Heather and Dodge will discover new things about themselves, each other, and those around them. Even though Panic entails a cash prize, every contestant, including Heather and Dodge, wants something more.
Panic possesses a compelling concept and an enticing book jacket, but I found the content lacking. The game itself required a severe suspension of disbelief – even then, I wanted to know more. Lauren Oliver describes the atmosphere of Carp well, but I desired more knowledge about Panic: why do the judges act the way they do? How is it that the police never seriously stepped up in years past when people have gotten injured? The questions I came up with may have added to the mysterious and threatening appeal of Panic, but at the same time it left the plot feeling a little loose and undefined. With no strong grounding, Oliver’s story structure almost felt like darts thrown at a wall – it still hit and had an effect, but it could have been more cohesive.
The lack of competent character development detracted from my liking of Panic the most. Only at about 200 pages in did I start to root for Heather, and both Heather and Dodge could have used more fleshing out. Their motivations for participating in Panic, their relationships with their families and friends, their opinions of each other – all of these aspects, while present, would have benefited from more explanation. The ending also left me feeling disappointed because it failed to give either character the growth or depth they needed.
Overall, not the worst book – Panic kept my attention even if it did not have me flipping the pages. Oliver can write well, and I will still read what she publishes next. I just hope she will improve upon this novel and return to the glory days of Before I Fall.
*also, if you want to check out my brief thoughts on A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman, you can read them here