Yeah, it was that bad.
It might be time to admit I don’t like popular books. I don’t even know why, and this time I really thought I was going to like this book. Yeah, the blurb sounded very Hunger Games-esque: a bunch of kids risking their lives to win a game and the huge cash prize. It would be even more fucked up than the Hunger Games in this respect because it’s not the government forcing them, they’re playing out of their own will to get out of their dead end town. And to win they’re willing to screw up their peers to do that. Some people thought it’d be bad, I thought it’d be good. We were all wrong. It was terrible. There are going to be spoilers in the review, because I’m assuming you’ve either already read the book and want to commiserate, or you’re not going to read the book anyway so you don’t care about spoilers. If you haven’t read the book yet… do yourself a favour and don’t read it.
Heather, our feckless protagonist, is playing Panic because her boyfriend dumped her for another girl. She gets pissy when someone says it, insists that her boyfriend’s betrayal made her realize how empty her life is, yadda yadda. Truth is, her boyfriend dumped her and she doesn’t know how to be single. So, hey, risking your life is a totally valid way to fill those empty Saturday evenings!
Heather’s biggest worry, when she’s about to play the first round of this game that might very well kill her, is whether her panty line might be showing.
Heather just wants to be loved. Her best friend Nat tells her that she’s got friends and a sister and a mother who love her. Heather literally says that doesn’t count. She wants to be loved with a dick! …No wait, she doesn’t say that outright, because she’s a Good Girl and therefore a virgin. Heather wants to be loved with, uh, manly kisses.
Heather goes to great lengths to explain that she’s not a prude. She just doesn’t fool around. And her boyfriend dumped her because she wouldn’t put out, so his new girlfriend (who does put out) is an evil slut. Every pretty girl is a whore, or evil, or both. Heather is not evil, she has a pimple. But just one. Heather’s friend Nat is very pretty, so to compensate she’s also petty, dumb, and a coward.
Mind you, I don’t think someone is a coward for refusing to play Panic, a game that deliberately tries to kill its own contestants in the name of happy summer fun. It’s just, Heather goes out of her way to point out that Nat is a ninny who’s scared of her own shadow. So, since Nat is always scared, Heather decides to pressure her into playing even after she’s twisted her ankle and it would be very reasonable to drop out.
It’s not clear why people don’t just drop out of Panic if they’re so scared of the upcoming challenges. Nothing about Panic is really clear. First off, everything is run by two secret judges who take a cut of the prize money as their “reward” for setting up the challenges and everything. This is totally a legit system and not liable to abuse. Once, it’s announced that a certain number amount of players with the top scores will move on. Most times it’s like “idk get the highest score and we’ll kick out a certain number of losers”. Others it’s just “complete this task”. After a while I figured out that it wasn’t important to try and figure out the rules because there were only four players with any relevance whatsoever: Heather, Nat, evil Ray, and Dodge. Everyone else was mentioned only like once or twice, usually when they were eliminated. Go on, guess which four characters made it to the finals.
Also, “secret” judges my ass, Bishop might as well have JUDGE tattooed on his forehead and Vivian is in like one scene only but it’s the scene that makes it obvious that she and Bishop are the SUPER SECRET JUDGES I mean come on.
So anyway, Dodge. Dodge is the other POV character, and if possible he’s even worse than Heather. I’ve got an anti-type, the sort of guy that makes me run for the hills: it’s the kind of guy who wants to “help” or “save” a female character, usually out of a misplaced belief that he’s responsible for her misfortunes, and therefore martyrs himself for her, and then gets really pissed if anyone else dares to try and help the female in distress, or if the female doesn’t appear grateful enough. Dodge fits that to a T.
See, Dodge’s sister Dayna is a wheelchair because of an accident that happened when she played Panic two years ago. And while I’m sympathetic with her plight, you’ve got to remember here that Dayna decided to play Panic. Nobody forced her to do it, she knew the risks. In the final round, Ray’s brother sabotaged Dayna’s car so she had an accident. In my mind, the blame here lies squarely with Ray’s brother, but also with Dayna because if you don’t want to risk your life and health? Don’t play a skeevy life-threatening game with a bunch of money-hungry teens.
So, who does Dodge blame for Dayna’s accident? Dodge blames himself.
Don’t try to make sense of it. To make it all even more medieval, he decides to get revenge by killing Ray in the final round of Panic.
Of course, this brilliant plan also hinges on him and Ray and nobody else reaching the final round of Panic, but luckily Panic does whatever is required to advance the plot. In between rounds of the game, Dodge is angry at Dayna for fighting depression and finding a boyfriend and starting to move her toes again instead of crying over his impending sacrifice like she ought.
There’s also a subplot in which Dodge is annoyed that Nat doesn’t know his name because after all there are only 107 kids in their year, and then Nat asks him to the mall and Dodge thinks they’re together and starts planning their wedding, but then Nat tells him that she’s already seeing some older guy who claims to be a modelling scout, and Dodge gets really angry because she’s a dumb slut. At some point this was solved and they end up together, but I’m not sure how because it was making me so uncomfortable I started skimming all Dodge chapters.
Not that Heather is much better, I mean, she thinks tigers live in Africa. But at least she doesn’t make me want to puke. Halfway through the book, Heather and her kid sister run away from their drug-adddict mother and Heather realizes that she needs the Panic money to support herself and her family. Then she ruins it by saying that even back at the start she wasn’t really playing because her boyfriend had dumped her, she had a great life plan all along. Sure, Heather, sure.
Sidenote: I’ve heard of a possible movie deal. If so, I hope the role of Heather’s sister goes to someone who can accurately portray all of her personality nuances. My personal suggestion would be a cardboard cutout.
Heather also later finds “true pure love” in the form of a rich lady who takes her in, and I realized that by “love” Heather means “someone who won’t call me up on my fuckups even when my fuckups are really big because I’m a delicate flower”.
So Heather goes and wins Panic, because of course she does, she’s the protagonist. They also go and stop him from killing Ray. And Dodge is pissed but then he’s fine with it. Guy was obsessed with revenge for two years, but apparently it was a very specific revenge and if he can’t kill Ray in the final round he’s fine with it and he’s achieved inner peace. Uh. Good for him I guess.
Ultimately, the moral of Panic is that money doesn’t solve problems. Unless you’re Heather, in which case if you win a lot of money all your problems will go away and you will become suddenly cool and you will get a boyfriend. Which as we know is the only important thing.