Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

It’s summer in Carp. Boredom is imminent. The pot is filled with $67,000. All seniors can participate but there is only one winner.

Let Panic begin.


Lauren Oliver’s book Panic may seem like it is a very Hunger Games-esque story but Panic is a far cry from it. There are a few key differences:

It’s not a kill-or-be-killed survival game but a who-has-more-balls/who-can-last-the-longest mental game. Two judges are hidden in the crowd of spectators who give points based on which participant impressed them the most. Participants can voluntarily step out of the game at any given moment. Speaking about Panic is strictly taboo (people are beaten to a pulp if the authorities catch wind of teens playing Panic). It is, however, not mandatory to participate.

The Characters

Heather and Dodge are both seniors who are determined to win: Heather for the chance to escape her life, and Dodge to exact revenge.

Heather’s prime motivation of winning Panic never changes: all she wants is to be far away from her mom and her trailer park home. All she’s done, however, is to avoid the problem instead of confronting it. It’s a nice touch at the end when she reaches out to the tiger and touches it, symbolizing that she acknowledges her fears, and chooses to embrace it rather than flee. Unfortunately, I thought that Heather was extremely dull: A typical character who is thrown into a dump-of-a-situation and who has to learn how to survive on her own.

I couldn’t discern any significant character change in Dodge. He is 100% set in his plans to achieve revenge against the brother of the boy who took his sister’s legs. The only reason that he didn’t get it is not because he chose not to but because somebody else managed to kidnap him and prevent him from doing so. Even though he knows that killing Ray won’t reverse the events and give Dayna her legs back, he refuses to stop. At this point, the revenge plot is not centered around Dayna anymore as it initially was. This is now about Dodge overcoming his fear and the memory of his failure to kill Luke the first time.

Nat is a bit of a confusing character for me. Heather makes a deal with her to cut the cash should one of them win. Then she makes a second deal with Dodge (possibly because she doesn’t believe that Heather is up to the task). She’s willing for Heather, her best friend, to risk her life against Ray in Joust than have Dodge, a boy whom she just met and initially used to benefit her own agenda, be in that situation. It just doesn’t feel like she is a true friend to Heather. I’m also bewildered by her sudden change in her feelings toward Dodge. I never thought that she genuinely liked him and to see her essentially sacrifice Heather for Dodge is a bit unnerving to me.

It wasn’t that hard to guess that Bishop was probably involved with Panic somehow, otherwise, why even include him in so many of Heather and Dodge’s POVs? As a character, Bishop is predictable: of course he was doing this to protect Heather, of course he loved Heather.  I wish that Lauren Oliver could have given Bishop a little more depth to him. He’s shallow in the sense that his motivations are as clear as glass and he’s just there as a love interest for the protagonist.

I’m slightly confused with the plot:

The judges: what are they there for? Are they just there to amp up the excitement of the challenges by throwing in some curveballs? From what I can tell, they don’t do much except issue challenges and fear getting beaten up by the other contestants. They’re supposed to give out points, but what are the points for except for show? They didn’t award points in this particular game of Panic. I don’t see much of a use for the judges plotline other than to highlight that “people are not who you think they are” mindset and to give some texture to Bishop.

The challenges that are supposed to raise panic and induce fear feel very much like the dares kids do. They are childish: walk across a thin board between two water towers, break into a gun-crazy maniac’s house and steal something, stay as long as possible in a creepy house, and then a challenge of who is going to chicken out first in a headlong drive into possible death. They don’t seem like challenges; maybe other people have different definitions of ‘challenge’ but I would imagine that a challenge would require some measure of intellectual reasoning and/or courage that test an individual’s ability to use their wits. These, to me, do not test courage or intellect.

I did like the ‘zooming-out’ effect that was integrated where readers are given an outside look of what is occurring outside of the two protagonists’ lives.

The tigers bring a sense of majestic grandeur to the story. They’re foreign, unfamiliar, and illegal and yet there’s something truly magical  about them. They appear to fear nothing but as Heather notes: “…she knew that the tiger was afraid–of the noise and the fire and the people shouting, crowding the road on both sides.”  I also liked how the author introduced the tigers as something that Heather was afraid to come near. In the beginning, she relied on her friends to support her and while that is encouraging, it was also a mark of maturity and growth for Heather when she faced the tiger alone.

I did have high hopes for this book. While I did like how Lauren Oliver seamlessly compared animals and humans and wrote about how Heather ultimately overcame her fears, I did not understand the purpose of the game Panic. I thought that the challenges were supposed to provoke some measure of growth in the characters but all it did was make them realize that “Oh dear, I could really die in this game”. Character growth could have happened without Panic and I feel that this is a significant flaw in the storyline.





2 thoughts on “Review: Panic by Lauren Oliver

    1. I did like her other YA novel BEFORE I FALL but I’m not a huge fan of this one. I’ve already put a hold on LIESL & PO at my library. I love the illustrations already!


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