HarperCollins, $17.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 0062014552, March 2014
Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought. Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.
First of all, I just want to say that tigers are from Asia, not Africa. Maybe Heather does come from a small town, but come on. Get the facts straight. Also, I will say that I am biased against this book because I got offended when the hero called the Oklahoma town he used to live in a “shithole.” No, sir. No one talks smack about Oklahoma. Shut your face. Also, underwhelming cover alert.
Now that I’ve gotten those matters out of my system…
First, from the blurb, you might think Lauren Oliver is rewriting The Hunger Games. Don’t worry; the similarities are superficial: impoverished teens playing a dangerous game with only one winner. Once you get past that rather broad comparison, the two stories have little in common, although the heroine is trying to save her little sister, come to think. But anyway, no, the setting is completely different, and the teens in this story aren’t forced to play the games. They run the games.
In Panic, anonymous judges give competitors tasks and grade them on who doesn’t panic, basically. The tasks are dangerous, like seeing who can stay in a burning house the longest. In addition to the competitive tasks, players must also pass individual challenges, like spending so many seconds in a tiger pen.
Despite the fact that the entire town (all 12,000 of them) know about Panic, law enforcement is powerless to stop it. All of the kids lie to the cops and even though the town is tiny, the cops usually don’t find out about the tasks and challenges on their own, either. If someone dies, the cops might know it’s because of Panic, but they can’t prove anything. I guess they don’t have the budget for investigative work.
The winner of Panic receives a massive cash prize of at least $50,000, often more. This year, the prize is over sixty grand. The high school students themselves raise the money by all contributing a dollar a day all year which is then stored in a safety deposit box in a bank. I found this part the least believable. Where are all these impoverished kids getting a dollar a day for Panic? What bank is going to say, “Sure, underage teenager, we’ll store thousands of dollars from who knows where in a lockbox for you without ever talking to your parents.”?
If the reader can make the enormous leaps of faith demanded by the sheer improbability of the concept, Panic makes for an intriguing and quick read. Every character has a different motivation. Heather first enters the game because she’s upset that a boy dumped her, but soon she’s playing for the money to support herself and her little sister after they leave their druggie mother. Dodge wants revenge against the boy who crippled his sister, so he plays in hopes of a chance to hurt the boy’s younger brother, who’s also in the game. Heather’s BFF and Dodge’s crush Natalie plays for the money to move to CA and launch her acting career. Heather’s other BFF Bishop, who’s also her love interest, isn’t playing, but he’s hiding the worst secret of all. The stakes are high, the characters are desperate, and the games are dangerous. Although not slated for a series, it would be surprising if Panic didn’t spawn a sequel or two.
Recommend to: Action fans, reluctant readers
To buy or not to buy: Buy. After the success of Delirium, you kind of have to.