Original publish date: 27 July 2014
Growing up is tough to do. People are judging your every word and action, emotions and hormones run rampant, and authority figures are really irritating. But when you add living in group homes, drugs, and mental instability, life is even darker and tougher.
In Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon, 15 year old Anais Hendricks serves as the narrator of just such a rough upbringing during her time at the Panopticon. Anais believes she is part of an experiment and “they” are aware of her every move, a la Big Brother from 1984. Anais is picked up by the police after she’s found with blood on her skirt and a police officer is beaten into a coma. This is hardly her first offense and she has a bit of a history with PC Craig, making it easy for the police to believe that Anais did it despite her claims that she didn’t. Through her time at the Panopticon, Anais seems to be working through her identity issues, as her social worker Helen put it, that arose from not knowing her biological parents and bouncing from home to home throughout her formative years.
The language used throughout the book took a little time for my American mind to easily grasp, but it is authentic and realistic for the age of the character and the locale the story is taking place. The narrative style is comprised of seemingly coherent sections of the present with oddly constructed flashbacks into Anais’s life in the foster system and instances of her drug use and the trips they elicited. Anais is an unreliable narrator and I questioned her mental stability throughout the entire novel, but it was enjoyable to question her because through some of her more drugged state ramblings there are nuggets of wisdom and life “truths.”
The disjointed storytelling works with the nature of Anais as an unreliable narrator and it moves along with the thought processes that would likely arise through drug use. The story is a less than conventional coming of age story where her mental maturation fully catches up with her physical maturation that was pushed forward with the harsh reality she grew up with. The gritty reality of the situations explored in the book offer fodder for young adult readers to relate to the characters and situations through a healthy outlet.
Overall, I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.