BOOK TOUR REVIEW & GIVEAWAY: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
by Jenni Fagan
Literary Fiction/Coming of Age
As THE PANOPTICON opens, we meet Anais Hendricks, a few months shy of her sixteenth birthday. Anais sits in the back of a police car in Midlothian, Scotland, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her there, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform.
Put in foster care at birth, Anais has moved through twenty-three placements before the age of seven. Along the way, she has endured unspeakable hardships and abuse, and has been let down, or worse, by almost every adult she encounters. And yet, despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, Anais greets the world with a witty, blunt, and endlessly entertaining voice. In the Panopticon, Anais fears that the system that has turned its back on her will beat her down and ultimately break her spirit. Yet, she also finds in the other residents an ad hoc family and begins to make her first halting steps toward friendships, taking charge of her own fate and discovering the depth of her own strength.
MY THOUGHTS: 3 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
I struggled to get into The Panopticon. I’m not exactly sure where the story is set, but it does take some time to get into the main character’s dialogue…it’s filled with a ton of Scottish slang, which was very disconcerting for this southern American girl. To get used to it (I never really did), you have to understand the concept that words ending in “no” or “not” are instead changed to “nae”. As in “cannot” changes to “cannae” and so forth. Tons of other vernacular too, lets me know this book wasn’t written with an American audience in mind. But that’s OK.
The main character, Anais, is beyond fascinating as a psychological case study. She’s 15 years old but has been in over 20 different foster homes since birth. When she finally did have a steady place to live and an adult she could count on, she lost her. Anais runs around chaotically on a drug and sex fueled existence, and seems to commit crimes simply because she can. Her attitude is overwhelmingly negative, but inwardly she’s introspective and imaginative. She holds out hopes that only a child who’s lost everything in life can.
Once Anais began making connections with the other kids in the Panopticon, she really started to come out of her shell. People her age are the only ones she relates to and trusts, and with her past even connecting to other kids is a stretch. The other “inmates” are just as damaged or even more so than she is, and Anais, despite what all adults in her life think of her, shines in a protective role over her fellow criminals.
It’s hard to know if the elaborate things Anais thinks up are drug induced hallucinations, products of mental illness, or just the result of a girl who has nothing but her imagination. Either way, I truly hope something great happened for Anais.
I rated the book a 3 because I feel like the title implied something that was never really delivered on. In the Panopticon, it’s known that everything you do can be seen at all times. But if this is so, and it’s supposed to be a rehabilitative center for kids, why are they allowing them to get away with so much? Maybe that was part of the “experiment”, I’m not sure. In any event, I thought that the idea of “Big Brother” watching these kids was not developed at all, and this was a big part of what I expected from the book.
The Panopticon may be about a teenaged girl but it is definitely not a young adult book. The pages are full of sex, drug use, profanity, violence, and even rape. It’a a tough read, but worth it.
About the Author
JENNI FAGAN was born in Livingston, Scotland. She graduated from Greenwich University and won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway MFA. A published poet, she has won awards from Arts Council England, Dewar Arts and Scottish Screen among others. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. She is currently the new Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. The Panopticon is her first novel.
ONE COMMENTER WILL WIN A COPY OF THE PANOPTICON!