Quite some time ago now, I read The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. A copy of this book was made available to me by the publisher at no charge to me through my partnership with the now defunct Red Letter Reads. The opinions are my own.
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.
I don’t know what to say about The Panopticon because I have very mixed feelings about it.
It had a lot of potential to be a great book, but I felt like the author couldn’t decide which story to follow. Did she want to follow the drug addled thoughts of a delinquent, prone to violence teen who has been in and out of the system her whole life? Or did she want to follow a more sci/fi plot? This could have been a great dystopian thriller or a tale of redemption and freedom, but alas it was neither.
I don’t know that I enjoyed the story itself. It was difficult to read after knowing friends and former students who have been through similar circumstances. I can say without a doubt that I liked the characters. Isla, Tash, Shortie, and John could have been developed a little more, but Anais’s interactions with them helped me forgive her delinquencies. I found myself very much wanting her to get away with her next bit of naughtiness, to find mental and physical freedom, and to get to Paris.
This is not a book for someone who is offended by vulgar language, dark imagery, or violence. I’d also caution anyone who has trouble reading unusual dialects as much of this book is written in what I might best describe as Scottish slang. I found myself rereading pages several times to figure out what they were saying, sometimes using Google or saying the words out loud to figure out what they meant. Also, although Anais is a teen and many of the characters are teens, this isn’t a book I would hand most of the Young Adult readers I know. In fact, I’m not sure I’d hand this book to many adults.
Is this something you’d be interested in reading? Why or why not?