Panic by Lauren Oliver Book Review by Simran Bagdiya
Panic by Lauren Oliver is an intense, suspenseful, and thought-provoking novel. Carp, being a small town with twelve thousand people in the middle of nowhere, is the last place a teenager wants to be. With nothing much to do, everyone is looking to get out of town and start a new life. At least, that’s the plan that Heather Nill has in mind. However, she needs money to accomplish this. For her, Panic, a game designed specifically for seniors, might just be the perfect solution. Each day, every student at Carp High pays a dollar, no exceptions. At the end of the school year, this money is awarded to the winner of Panic, which typically amounts to around $50,000. However, winning the game is no easy feat, as the contestants must face a series of death-defying challenges and must also conquer their individual challenges, which require them to face their worst fears.
In this novel, Lauren Oliver’s writing style- lyrical, heavily indulgent and filled with descriptive paragraphs- is a line by line pleasure to read, as the abundance of figurative language and various types of imagery truly adds to the intriguing suspense of the novel, and helps the reader create a vivid picture in their mind while reading.
As appropriate for novels filled with action and suspense, the plot pacing of the novel is thrilling and faced-paced, with events occurring right after another. However, special emphasis is given to the scenes regarding the challenges, as the novel seems to slow down a bit during those parts. While there are several plot twists that will surprise and shock the reader, the book has a well rounded plot structure and falls into a normal plot triangle. Throughout the novel, there is a relatively even build up to the climax, and an equally developed fall and resolution to the novel.
One of Lauren Oliver’s strengths in this novel is her ability to create several characters, all of which were well thought out and complete with a profound meaning to the novel. As a result of this, the conflicts that arose were also thoroughly developed and meaningful, as they demonstrated a clear effect on the characters. For instance, Heather faces a character versus self conflict which involves her feelings regarding Matt Hepley and Bishop Marks. As a result of this conflict, Heather begins to feel mixed emotions towards both of them, resulting in her often contending with herself when it comes to her feelings about them. Another conflict in the novel is a character versus character conflict, where Heather and her sister Lily are struggling to be free from their alcoholic mother Krista, who cares little about them. This affects Heather and Lily, as they decide to run away, and become homeless for a while, merely surviving by living in Krista’s car. An additional character versus character conflict is where Dodge is fighting with his sister, as he wishes to continue to participate in Panic, in order to play for Dayna, and get his rightful revenge. Albeit, his sister prohibits him from doing this. This affects Dodge and Dayna, as it weakens the brother-sister relationship between the two. There is also a character versus society conflict, as the Panic participants are always against the police. This is due to the fact that Panic is a dangerous, risky game where many of the challenges require doing illegal things. As a result, the Panic participants are always trying to do things in a sneaky manner, as being caught by the police would result in dire consequences. Therefore, when they are caught and someone dies, there is a major effect on the characters, as they all feel a sense of guilt for participating in the game, and being responsible for the death. Nevertheless, these conflicts always remained present in the back of the mind, as they were constantly portrayed in the novel.
One of the primary impacts that the novel had on the reader was due to the thoroughly developed characters. For instance, the concept behind Heather and Lily’s conflict with their mother was very real, as every child has had their parents not listen to them at least once in their life, just perhaps not to that extent. However, these relatable conflicts allowed the reader to easily identify and connect to the characters. As a result, this developed some crucial themes, such as the theme ideas of hardships, fear, and courage. These three theme ideas were depicted throughout the novel, and were shown in each chapter. For instance, the theme idea of hardships and struggle is shown through how problematic Heather and Dodge’s current home situations are, and how they preserved while dealing with the problem and did not let that bring them down. This affected the reader as it showed how one may struggle in their life and face difficult times, but that a person should not be discouraged and give up as a result. Another theme idea that is conveyed in the novel was fear. This was demonstrated through the various challenges and events in the novel, such as when Heather was afraid of petting the tigers and is just looking at “the sharp curve of [the tiger’s] teeth, white as bone” (81). Finally, courage is portrayed in the novel when Heather pushes herself away from the tank, and forces herself to walk on the wooden plank that is fifty feet above in the air, and “had barely been secured to the ledge by means of several twisted screws” (41). This influenced the reader as it demonstrates the fact that a person should learn to confront their fears, and attempt to vanquish them.
For the most part, Lauren Oliver’s Panic has surpassed my expectations, and is undoubtedly her finest novel yet. It is a brilliant contemporary novel that belongs in its own category, and is completely unlike The Hunger Games and Divergent. After the success of this book, readers should definitely add this captivating, gripping, action-filled novel to their to-read shelves, and keep an eye out for more of Ms. Oliver’s books. The New York Times Book Review gives this book a rating of four out of five stars, as only a couple of minor details would need to be altered in order for this novel to receive a five star rating. Overall, this book has definitely heightened the success of Lauren Oliver, and is a memorable, commendable novel that will create a lasting impression in the minds and hearts of readers forever.