Cover of Panic, with a white girl in profile, her blonde hair blowing forward

About the Book

Title: Panic (Panic #1)
Published: 2014
Series: Panic
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: WTF
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Masterful
Bonus Factor: Tournament
Anti-Bonus Factors: Reader Superiority, Dan Scott Award For Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: I’ll Split The Reward With You

Cover Story: WTF

This cover might make sense if, say, the book was set in a salon or focused on a high stakes hairstyling competition. BUT IT’S NOT. There is literally NOTHING in this book that relates to a blonde who is in obvious need of a rubber band. I tried to fathom just how this novel ended up with a windblown hair cover, and this is the only scenario I could imagine:

Art Director: Okay, here’s our final version of the artwork for Lauren Oliver’s new book, Static. What do you think?

Editor: It’s Panic, not Static!

Art Director: Oops.

The Deal:

The small town of Carp doesn’t offer many opportunities to its high school graduates. Bleak and impoverished, it’s the kind of place meant for escaping, not settling, but very few people have the luxury of leaving. That’s why the game of Panic is so very enticing.

Panic is Carp’s #1 scholarship program, but it can’t be won with a high GPA and a broad list of extracurriculars. And it’s certainly not sanctioned by any school or government authority. It’s a series of challenges played in secret each year by the town’s graduating seniors, and the winner takes home enough money to ensure that they’ll never have to step foot in Carp again. Orchestrated by two anonymous judges, Panic is ripe with dangerous costs that far exceed its reward, but desperation guarantees a long roster of contestants. Among the players are Heather, who dreams of a life beyond the trailer she shares with her sister and alcoholic mother, and Dodge, a loner determined to seek revenge for his sister, who was paralyzed in a previous game of Panic. The stakes are high and the competition is fierce, and by the end, much more than rules will be broken.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

The book alternates between the perspectives of Heather and Dodge, and it didn’t take long for my heart to go out to them.

Heather is a fighter, and she’s also a hell of a big sister. She refuses to let her emotional baggage weigh her down, even though, thanks to a terrible ex-boyfriend and wildly irresponsible mother, it’s heavy enough to sink a small ship. But she’s certainly not invincible, and her insecurities made me want to hug her that much harder. Complicated, tough and a little bit prickly, Heather easily inspired both my deep affection and admiration, and I cheered so hard for her, my mental voice got hoarse.

But just because I’m Team Heather doesn’t mean I wasn’t a fan of Dodge. His motivations are darker, but his thirst for vengeance springs from a love for his sister, and I can’t fault him for that. He’s also been bullied and largely ignored by his fellow classmates, so his underdog status makes it impossible not to root for him. Then there’s the fact that he’s a really sweet guy who, when it comes to girls, wears his heart on his sleeve, which led to me sighing, “Oh, honey,” several times while reading the book.

I wish I could protect both of them from the harsh realities of the world, but that’s the best part—they don’t need me, not at all.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Between Heather’s growing attraction toward her childhood friend, Bishop, and Dodge’s fascination with Heather’s bestie, Nat, there’s enough sparks to provide a nice undercurrent of electricity, although it flickers with frustrating developments that I will not spoil for you. But most of the book’s emotional tension isn’t rooted in romance, and I was too swept up in the game of Panic to mind.

Talky Talk: Masterful

Lauren Oliver has a gift for tightly winding emotion around every word, and it is on full display in Panic. Her language is gorgeously evocative, but it never slows down the racing pulse of the action, resulting in a novel that is impossible to put down. In the hands of a lesser writer, the concept of Panic could still be compelling, but Oliver elevates the intensity by crafting characters that demand an investment. The reader is instantly submerged in the world of Carp, which is at once grim and universal:

It struck her how sad it was that all of them—the kids standing here, her classmates and friends and even the people she’d hated—had grown up on top of one another like small animals in a too-small cage, and now would simply scatter. And that would be the end of that. Everything that had happened—those stupid school dances and basement after-parties, football games, days of rain that lulled them all to sleep in math class, summers swimming at the creek and stealing sodas from the coolers at the back of the 7-Eleven, even now, this, Panic—would be sucked away into memory and vapor, as though it hadn’t even happened at all.

An absorbing blend of poetry and rawness, Panic is reminiscent of Oliver’s first book, Before I Fall, but ultimately it lacks the haunting impact of Samantha’s story. It didn’t take long for me to get wrapped up in the lives of Heather and Dodge, yet they passed from my consciousness just as quickly with the turn of the last page.

Bonus Factor: Tournament

Sure, Panic is totally effed up, but it’s still a fascinating array of dares. Nail-biters, beware!

Anti-Bonus Factor: Reader Superiority

There was a really great twist in this story, but I figured it out waaaaay before the main characters did. I HATE THAT. Yeah, it makes me feel smart, but it also makes the heroes seem stupid. Like, shake-their-shoulders, “WAKE UP, YOU IDIOT!” kind of stupid.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award For Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Heather’s mom is THE WORST. Her only attribute is that she makes you cheer for Heather that much harder.

Relationship Status: I’ll Split The Reward With You

Book, I’m thankful that we were able to experience this journey together, because it was quite a ride! You were a worthy partner, and when it comes to entertainment, we definitely won. Now that we’ve got our reward, we might go our separate ways, but I’ll always appreciate your gift for storytelling.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from HarperCollins. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Panic is available now.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.