Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Title: The Panopticon
Author: Jenni Fagan
Publisher: Hogarth
Released: July 23, 2013
Source: publisher (giveaway)

Synopsis (from publisher):

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’s school uniform 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 counter-culture 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. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.

The Panopticon wasn’t quite what I expected. The synopsis’s mention of an “experiment” gave me a sci-fi vibe which would have made this a completely different sort of book. Instead, it is a gripping and emotional coming of age story with a unique voice.

The heavy use of Scottish dialect and slang took some getting used to. At first I struggled, reading very slowly, because the voice I imagined as I read didn’t sound terribly authentic. After looking up some of the words on Forvo so I could hear native Scottish speakers pronounce them, I started to settle in and began to read more fluently.

Even when she wasn’t very likable, I liked Anais. I felt empathy for her. It was easy to cheer her on even when things didn’t feel all that hopeful. So many of Anais’s thoughts and feelings are absolutely heartbreaking. She’d survived some appalling circumstances. Yet she continued to move ahead, determined to get through each crisis, always wanting more for herself.

Anais reminds us there’s usually more to a person’s story, that what we see is often just the surface. She reminds us that we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss or give up on people. The Panopticon is a coming of age story you cannot forget.

Be sure to read Shannon’s review at River City Reading. Her thoughts on The Panopticon really piqued my interest in this book, and her comments about it are spot-on.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher after winning a giveaway at River City Reading. There was no obligation to read or review the book; this is my honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.