New York Times best-selling author of "Before I Fall" and the Delirium series, Lauren Oliver, is back with a contemporary young adult novel titled "Panic." This psychological thriller is well-written, unpredictable and entertaining.
In the small town of Carp, Heather and Dodge, the alternating narrators, have just graduated from high school. During their four years of high school, they each paid a Panic tax, money that would go into a pot, which would be the grand prize for that year's Panic winner. Panic is a game that tests the players' deepest, darkest fears and sets them against one another, asking them to do unspeakable things.
Only this year's seniors are eligible to compete, and this year's prize is $67,000. Heather never planned on competing in Panic, but when her boyfriend breaks up with her and her mom falls further into a drug addiction, leaving Heather solely responsible for her little sister, Panic becomes the only ticket out of the town that holds all of her problems.
Dodge says he's only playing for the money, but he calculates his every move based on the need for revenge that boils up inside of him.
Dodge and Heather become both opponents and allies in the summer game that threatens their sanity, their relationships and, most importantly, their lives.
Oliver possesses many strengths as a writer, and world building and believable characters are at the top of the list. Oliver creates a town in Carp, from its teenage hangout of a quarry to the houses with tigers or accumulated junk in the yards, that leaps off the page and looks like a real dot on a map.
Her characters are flawed, and even though they progress, they remain flawed, as humans naturally do. Oliver uses desperation and the desire to belong to drive her characters through unbelievable circumstances. Heather joins a deadly competition all because she wants to be a part of something bigger than the life she's grown to hate. Dodge longs for the time in the past he knows he'll never get back, but he will still do anything to at least get even.
With her recognizable way with words, Oliver seamlessly pieces together a town and its people, full of tragedy and disgrace but also realistically redeemable qualities, and forms a story that is unpredictable and entertaining to the end.
"Panic" contains mild swearing and sexual references. People have been seriously injured and killed during the challenges. The challenges don't ask them to do these things, but some of the competitors want to win so badly that things like that happen. The tasks are always dangerous.