First Lines: 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.
I was really excited when I found this in at the library. I always like to get my hands on whatever Lauren Oliver book I can. I mean, after Before I Fall (which made me bawl), I’ll pretty much read anything she writes.
Carp, New York, is a nowhere town with 12,000 people and nothing to do. Summers would be boring without Panic, the yearly competition held for the just-graduated seniors. The stakes are high, but so is the pay-off. Normally, Heather would never participate in the dangerous game, but she finds someone to fight for, to play for. And that makes her braver than she ever believed she could be. For Dodge, Panic has been something he had to play–to win–for years. Now it’s his turn. His secrets fuel is courage, but what he doesn’t seem to know is that everyone has secrets.
Look, you guys, normally I’d be gushing over a Lauren Oliver book. I would. But this…this has got to be a fluke. A misfire. Because I very nearly couldn’t bring myself to even finish it. I was 150 pages in and still not hooked. I gave it just two more chapters to hook me, and it finally did. But I know a lot of people wouldn’t have gone as far as I did.
I truly wanted to like it. But I just couldn’t relate to the characters. Between Dodge and Heather, I honestly couldn’t find a single thing to keep me interested in their story lines. It was two minor characters, Anne and Bishop, who kept me entertained the most.
It was hard for me to feel like I was in the story. I mean, Carp is this town too small for a dot on the map and 50 miles from the nearest city. My hometown is adjacent to a city ranked in the top 100 biggest cities in the U.S. If I’m bored, I can literally drive 20 minutes or less to malls, theatres, libraries, whatever. I don’t know what it’s like to live somewhere that small. And it’s a really poor town. Mine, again, is not. The story kept making a big deal over just how poor this town and the characters are, and it started to feel like an excuse rather than a defining characteristic of either.
But what was also super hard for me was Panic. Oh my God. It sounded cool on the jacket, but I thought it was perhaps one of the most idiotic, dangerous games ever. I think some of my adulthood is showing through here, because I just wanted to ground them and keep them from ever leaving home again.
It was completely reckless is what it was. We’re constantly told about people who have died playing Panic, and yet no one really seems remorseful/upset about it. It was more of like, “Oh yeah, Bobby Jo died when she fell 10 stories in a stunt two years ago. Now, I’m going to do something virtually the same and hope I don’t die too.” What? Seriously?! (By the way, I totally made up Bobby Jo. That’s not a spoiler or anything.) I wasn’t filled with warm fuzzies or thrills when I read about Heather and Dodge doing these stunts. I really just wanted to call them idjits and throw the book across the room.
While the games themselves can be quite suspenseful, the story itself wasn’t. And the suspense from Panic usually only lasted half a chapter. It spent more time following Heather and Dodge’s lives than the game. I got bored. I couldn’t remember why I was still reading this.
I saw a review that commented on how closely the premise matches The Hunger Games. This was more of the realistic-fiction version of it. And that’s probably where part of my issue came from. I hated seeing young lives cut short shown in such a flippant way. It’s one thing (in my head, anyway) if it’s done under someone as calculating and evil as President Snow, but when it looks like something I could possibly see on the news tomorrow night? Nope. Count me out.
Overall, this just didn’t seem to be Oliver’s best work. Something went wrong in the execution, and I’m hoping the next book (whatever it happens to be) will be better.