Panic by Lauren Oliver | Book Review

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So, the most recent book I’ve read is Panic by Lauren Oliver. Oliver is one of my favorite authors and hasn’t disappointed me yet (except for, maybe, the third Delirium book.) Here I’ll breakdown what works in the book and what doesn’t.  (slightly spoiler-ish)

Idea/Creativity: When I first read the synopsis for this book I wasn’t so impressed – it sounded like it would be another Hunger Games rip off. Luckily, it turned out not to be. Panic is about girl in a crummy town that gets in on a local tradition among high schoolers. That tradition is a game called Panic which basically involves doing a series of dangerous stunts. The prize is a large sum of money. The main character, Heather, plays the game as her personal life is in turmoil. There’s also romantic tension between her and her friend Bishop along the way. A selected group of judges oversee the competition and their identities are kept fiercely secret.  This is the jist of the novel.

The idea isn’t bad. It may not be a Hunger Games rip-off but it’s not particularly original.  If I had to rate on creativity alone I can’t say I would rate all that highly. However, this doesn’t mean the book is bad – plenty of unoriginal books are still fun to read. I feel that the author does well with the premise although the basic idea feels like it’s been done before.

Story Flow: This is a pretty fast read. Much of the story revolves around the game, of course. But the characters still have a lot of personal conflict the story focuses (However, the threat of the game and when the next event will be always looms over their head) on. So I would say there’s never really a dull moment in the story since there’s always something significant going on. It also constantly switches between characters Dodge and Heather’s point of view and this helps the story move fast.

Characters: The main characters are Heather and Dodge, whose POVs the book is told from (mainly third-person limited). Dodge has revenge on his mind since his sister was paralyzed in the game during the final challenge. Heather wants to escape the town of Carp and give a better life to her sister, Lily. Both of them are good main characters. They’re flawed with good intentions, and I thought they would have made a better relationship dynamic than Heather and Bishop did.

The other important characters are Natalie and Bishop, Heather’s two best friends. Out of the main cast, Natalie is the worst. She was extremely annoying. Heather deserved a better best friend and Dodge deserved a better love interest. As for Bishop, he’s not as bad but he is boring. The relationship between him and Heather fell completely flat, in my opinion.

Main characters aside, the side characters are one of the biggest flaws of the book. There’s supposed to be other people in the game but we learn almost nothing about them – they’re essentially like nameless entities. There’s a character named Ray (that Dodge has bone to pick with) who lasts to the very end but we never get to know much about him – he’s completely one-dimensional like all the others outside of the main ones. Even Dodge and Heather’s sisters lack any true depth.

There is a kind woman named Anne who befriends Heather but she didn’t have much development either. Her main characteristic is that she has a farm. And there’s a couple tigers on that farm.

Setting: The story takes place in a town called Carp. It’s a boring, soul crushing place. In fact, one of the claims in the book is that Panic got started because the teens simply had nothing to do. There’s also a lot going behind closed doors with drugs and such (as seen through Heather’s home life). I thought the setting was well done. It really captured the dread that crappy small towns can carry.

Ending: Heather gets a pretty good ending but Dodge’s was a bit disappointing and there wasn’t much closure when it came to him. However, the narrative clearly favors Heather more so she’s the one that ended up finishing the final challenge. Which the story shows with some cool imagery involving a tiger. Even though Dodge deserved a better ending, I think the book had a decent end regardless.

Final Thoughts: Panic is a good book. It may not do anything new and has its flaws but it’s a good book. Following Heather and Dodge is fun and intense to read about. Some of the challenges are cool but I mostly like how the game is incorporated into the sadness of the main characters.

Due to how much I enjoyed the book overall, I will give it a solid 4.5/5.

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Where are you going, Where have you been by Joyce Carol Oates | Short Story Analysis

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Connie is your typical attractive teenage girl – she likes going out with friends and flirting with boys. She’s annoyed with her family, especially her mother who’s constantly criticizing her. Her flirting is mostly innocent fun until she’s confronted by a strange older man named Arnold Friend at her home.

Some may view this story as a cautionary tale -a young woman ends up being punished for venturing into adult sexuality. And although her fate after leaving with Arnold is undescribed, all the clues in the story make it clear it will be something horrible (rape/murder). Another way some view the story is that Connie is a hero – she went with Arnold because he was threatening her family and she wanted to keep them safe.

However, I think there’s much more to it than that. Arnold could be something more sinister than a creepy guy. Look at how far he takes his façade – stuffing his boots to look taller, the sunglasses, possibly wearing a wig and such. A more simple explanation would be that he’s hiding his age and wants to seem young and cool to teenage girls.

But there’s also a possibly that Arnold has supernatural origins, possibly a demon. First off his name ‘Arnold Friend” seems artificial. Along with his appearance it’s like he’s trying to imitate a human being rather than being one naturally.  At one point when Connie observes his appearance and demeanor more the narrative states, “But all these things did not come together.” Meaning that he seems very unnatural.

The way  he seems to entrance Connie also indicates he’s not wholly human. He uses his persuasion to get Connie to come with him, rather than physical (which would have been the last resort). He’s confident in his power of persuasion and snaps at his friend Ellie when he suggests taking other measures.

While the supernatural theory could be wrong, I do think Arnold is basically meant to embody the ultimate predator. He disguises himself to lure in victims and he knows to entrance them.

“And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were maybe ten feet apart.
After his had fell back to his side the X was still in the air almost visible.”

Here is where it shows that Connie’s fate is sealed. She has been “X’d” out and the predator will succeed by the end. Arnold shows how evil can appear suddenly and in the most unlikely of places. Connie was just an average teenage girl, but meeting Arnold has forced her to confront the terrible aspects of the world which Arnold embodies.