Panic_HC_JKT_des4.inddPanic by Lauren Oliver

Pub: March 2014

Small-town teens Heather & Dodge participate in an elaborate game of daring feats to win $67,000.

Opening line:

THE WATER WAS SO COLD IT TOOK HEATHER’S BREATH away as she fought past the kids crowding the beach and standing in the shallows, waving towels and homemade signs, cheering and calling up to the remaining jumpers.

Lauren Oliver’s novels have been a bit hit-or-miss for me — I loved Liesel & Po, and I liked Before I Fall and Delirium, but the final books of the Delirium series didn’t hold up for me. I’d hoped that since Panic was a stand-alone, it’d be more like Before I Fall, and in a lot of ways it was, but there were some things that held me back from loving it as much as I wanted to.

What I liked: The premise of a high-stakes small-town dare contest sounded really neat, and for the most part, it was. The author really captured the atmosphere of a dead-end small town, and although I’m not always a huge fan of realistic, contemporary fiction — wow — there are some really intense scenes as the players are narrowed down and the stakes get higher.

What I didn’t like: There was so much of the setup that I just couldn’t buy into. Every single student is bullied into throwing a dollar into the pot for each school day? Events are announced publicly (one was painted on a water tower, for goodness sake) and yet somehow ALL of the adults in the town are completely clueless about what’s going on or too dumb to show up until after the fact? (Keeping in mind that this has been going on for YEARS.) NO ONE in the town thinks that these kids might be communicating the info via email or texts? And the parents? Where are ALL of these kids parents and why don’t they care that their kids are playing Russian Roulette and starting houses on fire? I just can’t buy into it.

My other major issue was with the climax, or — more accurately — the lack thereof.

(Warning: vague spoiler-y stuff ahead)

Everything’s been building and tensions are mounting and everyone’s scheming about how they’re going to win the final challenge — which is basically a game of chicken (in which at least two of the competitors had to borrow someone else’s car) — and things are in place to have some real serious stuff happen… and then it doesn’t. Or, it kind of does, but not really as bad as it could have been. And then someone wins not by being clever or cunning or smart, but by sheer dumb luck. The end. And, presumably, life goes on until the next year when another batch of idiots tries it again. Huge letdown.

Heads up: Lots of underage drinking, some smoking and drug use, sexual references, and teens doing dangerously idiotic things


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