The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
(Hogarth, 2013, 282 pages)
People had been raving about this book so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The Panopticon is Fagan’s debut novel and our protagonist is 15-year-old Anais. We’re introduced to her as she’s being brought in by the police with blood on her hands and a police officer in a coma. Anais is taken to the Panopticon, a home for juvenile offenders. This isn’t her first time in a place like this. Anais has been in out of institutions and foster homes her whole life. To the point where she’s convinced her life is simply part of an experiment to see how much she can take.
Anais doesn’t know who her biological parents are. Her mother gave birth to her in an asylum and that’s all that’s known about her. So Anais makes it a point of playing the “birthday game” where she invents her history in an attempt to imagine what a good life could have looked like for her. While in the Panopticon Anais surprisingly bands together with a number of the other offenders. The bonds formed between them are very real and very strong. They know that they’ve never been able to trust the authority figures in their lives, they rely on themselves and each other.
The Panopticon is told from Anais’s point of view. She has lived a hard life and you can’t help but feel for her and those around her forced to live similar existences. Anais relies heavily on drugs to help keep her from being truly present in the world she lives in. The book is also rife with stories and references to prostitution, rape, beatings… you name it, really. Life for these teens is hard and there’s no attempt to sugarcoat it. While the book wasn’t really what I expected I was drawn into it. Fagan is a Scottish author so I had to get used to a different language while I was reading (a few examples: tae, cannae, wee, nae, didnae, isnae, gonnae, dinnae, wasnae, umnay, havenae). I figured most things out but I’m sure there were references I missed.
An interesting, dark read. I at first thought it would be a good crossover for young adults but… there’s a lot going on in there. Maybe older teens would appreciate it but the language and the content certainly wouldn’t be appreciated by a number of parents.