Genre: young adult
Fiction RBC 2014: A book with a mystery
Panic started in the town of Carp, population 12,000, for two reasons: because it was summer, and because there was nothing else to do. Now, Panic has become an institution. Played by recent high school graduates, participants sign up to compete in literal life-or-death challenges for the chance to win $67,000. People have died and two years ago, a girl was left paralysed from the waist down after her car was tampered with so that she would lose at the last hurdle. Still, Panic goes on.
Heather Nill never planned on entering Panic, but once she took part in the first challenge, The Jump, there was no turning back. Her best friend Nat is furious at first, but the two put their heads together and help each other as much as they can in order to get to Joust, the final and deadliest challenge. With the help of their third Musketeer, Bishop, and Dodge Mason, a loner in their class who has a crush on Nat and ulterior motives for playing, the four can only stand by and play in what is the most dangerous game of Panic in its history. They have all to play for … and everything to lose …
The premise of this is stunning – yet bloody terrifying. In a town like Carp, everyone is determined to leave and make something of their lives, though it hasn’t always been clear that previous winners of Panic have been able to reach that goal with their prize money. Heather is spurred into entering after seeing her supposed boyfriend with another girl, and wants the money so she and her little sister Lily can get the hell out of Carp. Nat wants to move to L.A. and pursue an acting career. For Dodge, he wants revenge for his older sister Dayna, left in a wheelchair after her car crumpled up like piece of paper during Joust when the eventual winner meddled with her steering. Friends are pitted against each other and everyone honours the rules and secrecy of the game – or else.
I liked Heather. I couldn’t be Heather, but her courage to do what was best for her sister and her friends was admirable, and she stuck out the worst of circumstances. Her plans for her future might not be particularly ambitious or even set in stone, but once she’s decided that she’ll stick out Panic for herself and her sister, she’s in it to win. The friends are as loyal to each other as they try to be, but the stakes are high and tensions are soaring. This is the type of situation where real friendships and loyalties are put to the test, and they don’t always survive. It’s a thrilling read but the set-up of Panic means that your thrills are dealt out at a sedate pace which really stretches the book out and makes for a rocky read.
I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did and I’m always happy when I surprise myself and the book surprises me. I can’t imagine anything like Panic happening where I grew up or went to school, though I can imagine that there are schools and places in the world where similar challenges and games take place as part of ritual or tradition. This isn’t just a young adult book and its appeal spreads way beyond YA. I say that, not only because I couldn’t fit Panic into any of the YA RBC 2014 categories that are left, but because there’s elements of adventure, mystery and suspense. It’s got something for everyone and as it’s so short, there’s really no harm in giving it a try.
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.