Heather Nill is living a dead-end life in a washed-up town. Prospects are so grim that the high school kids’ best hope of escaping is through a legendary game called Panic. Everyone pays in, and there can be only one winner, but it's not just a matter of facing down your worst fears—the stakes can be life or death. Heather’s there to support her best friend Nat, but at the last minute she decides to compete. The money’s a powerful motivator, but there’s more at stake, for her and everyone involved.

Panic is full of big scares, but the central horror is the daily reality these kids face. Life with addicted parents and meth-infested trailer parks, with little hope of relief, would drive anyone to take chances. Author Lauren Oliver (the Delirium trilogy) weaves together themes of jealousy and revenge, and puts these kids through some terrifying challenges. There are a series of twists leading up to an explosive finale that will have readers breathlessly turning pages. And in between the hard-won victories and awful consequences of the game, there are quiet moments of friendship, family and connection that are the real grand prizes in life. 

Virtually everyone involved with Panic has a secret, including Heather's friend Bishop, who’s not playing but is always around when the challenges are announced. Unpacking everyone’s motivations adds another layer to the mystery, but the book is best when it hews close to Heather and her resistance to change, even though it holds her only chance at happiness. Her conviction that she “was a nobody. Nill. As in zero” is the most formidable demon she needs to conquer in order to thrive. Panic is a thrill ride with a still point at its center.

 

Heather Seggel reads too much and writes all about it in Northern California.

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