October 29, 2014

Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon
Author: Jenni Fagan
Genre: YA Contemporary/Thriller
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Hogarth 


Named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists

Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counterculture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.

Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon—they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad-hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. But when she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais realizes her fate: She is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.

Now with Extra Libris material, including a reader’s guide and bonus content


The Panopticon is by far one of the most original books I've ever read. Everything about it - from the main character Anais to the setting of the Panopticon and even the relationships between the characters - is phenomenal and wholly unique. I was fully immersed in the story from the very first paragraph - and I didn't come up for air until the final word had been read. Although I've finished reading it, it has stayed with me and begs to be read again and again. Anais, our main character, doesn't play well with others. As the book opens, she is being taken to the Panopticon - a sort of home for chronic young offenders - by the police. She's covered in blood, but she doesn't remember anything that happened. Since she has been through the foster care system most of her life - and switching placements twenty-three times before she was even seven years old, Anais has basically no trust in adults and relies solely on herself for her survival. The book is told from Anais' point of view, which I loved because she's such a complex character with so many layers hiding her true self. Being inside her head made it a little easier to get to know her - the real her - through her inner dialogue and thoughts, emotions, and the walls she's put up around herself since she was a little girl. I loved watching Anais' character grow in the book. She starts out as a sarcastic, gritty teenage girl who tends to get into trouble with the law. After being in the Panopticon for a while, she begins to let down her barriers to let the other teens in. It's a huge accomplishment when Anais finally lets go of her fears enough to really bond with the other residents - and together they form a sort of hodgepodge family. Together they rise up against the adults who keep them confined and try to figure a way to get free. One day, Anais realizes that she's merely a part of an experiment - and always has been. Now that she knows their secret, it seems as though the experiment is beginning to fall apart all around her.

The plot is so intricate and contains so many smaller storylines that it's hard to pin it down with words. There's so much that happens in the novel - from Anais being taken to the Panopticon to her finally bonding with the others inside - that it would take an eternity to talk about all of its aspects. All I can say is that the story is unlike anything I've ever read before, which is a huge accomplishment these days with all the millions of books out there. The writing was fast paced but natural at the same time; since Anais is the narrator, we get the pieces of the story at the same speed she does. The writing was phenomenal - some parts were dark, intense, and raw while others went to the other side of the spectrum and were heartwarming, hopeful, and had a strong sense of family and belonging. I was able to slip inside the story at the very beginning and it felt like I was experiencing every part of the novel with Anais. It wasn't an easy ride - more of an emotional and mental roller coaster - but one that had me enchanted and begging for more. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, to the level it deserves, but I strongly believe that fans of all genres will fall in love with this story as much as I did. It doesn't matter what your reading preferences are - you need to read this book. 

Strange, Beautiful, Gritty, and Entirely Unique - a Definite New Favorite!!

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