Book Review: Panic

panic cover

Oliver, Lauren. Panic. Harper, 2015.

There’s a truth universally accepted by gray-haired parents and teachers everywhere: teenagers can be fearless. This attribute is blamed on everything from still developing brains to a lack of understanding about the finality of rash decisions. No matter the cause, the thought of my students endangering themselves by engaging in risky behavior puts me immediately on edge. Perhaps that was why I found Lauren Oliver’s Panic such a suspenseful, engaging read.

In the small, downtrodden town of Carp, there are few opportunities for young people to thrive. Drug addiction runs rampant and leaving for college is a rarity. The town’s desolation led to the creation of Panic, a game reserved for recent high school graduates. The game features a series of increasingly dangerous dares until one lone victor remains. The winner is awarded a handsome cash prize—a little over sixty thousand dollars gathered from mandatory weekly dues. There’s a shroud of secrecy around the organizers and judges of the event, and the stakes are high. A past participant has even been paralyzed.

Dodge and Heather are two participants in Panic. Heather doesn’t know why she joined in—emotional after a split from her boyfriend, she impulsively leaped into the festivities. Dodge, on the other hand, has a clear motive for participating: thoughts of his sister, Dayna, at home in a wheelchair motivated him to seek revenge. As the challenges grow in difficulty and danger, Dodge and Heather bandy together. Will either of them win Panic? Will Dodge secure justice for Dayna? And when Panic causes a death in Carp, will the game shut down for good?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book kept me on the edge of my seat. Oliver continually increases suspense and anticipation throughout the narrative. In fact, during a silent reading period at school, a student walked by me as I read Panic and remarked, “Wow. You look intense.” Oliver’s language and description are also masterful. There are so few novel ways to describe fear or anguish, but Oliver’s descriptions are visceral and gritty, contributing to the overall mood of the book.

If there are any flaws in Panic, they perhaps lie in its believability—the idea that a large group of teens could get away with such a dangerous activity year after year with minimal attention from the police. I was bothered, too, by the pot of money in the game, and the fact that high school students are required to contribute to it. This detail felt far-fetched.

Still, Panic is quite possibly one of the most thrilling novels I have read in some time. Excerpts from this novel could teach students a great deal about literary suspense. Panic would also be helpful in showing students how an author can create a certain mood through sensory details and diction. If you’re looking for a book that would appeal to your students’ adventurous natures, Oliver’s novel is perhaps the perfect fit.

BookCon: A First Timer’s Review

book con entrance

Via a Facebook ad, I saw that Nicola Yoon, Stephen Chbosky, Jenny Han, Rainbow Rowell, and Margaret Atwood were among the attendees scheduled for this year’s BookCon in New York City. The itinerary was simply too good to resist; days later, my husband and I purchased convention and plane tickets, and I began counting down the days until my arrival in the Big Apple.

Having now attended my very first BookCon, I would be remiss if I did not share my experience with my bookish readers. In short, if you have the time and resources to visit BookCon, don’t pass it up. It truly is a reader’s paradise.


Panels are always exciting for me. As an aspiring author, I gain writerly tips and tricks. As a fangirl, I get to see some of my favorite authors in the flesh. Here is a short synopsis of each of the panels I attended.

Romance and New Adult Fiction: This panel featured Young Adult/New Adult romance authors Christina Lauren, Colleen Hoover, and Kami Garcia. The women discussed the creation of “strong” protagonists, and stressed the importance of flawed, damaged, and hurt characters. The authors also discussed the unfair and unwarranted stereotype of romance novels, even though they easily outsell other genres.

new adult romance

A Spectrum of Young Adult Authors: This panel featured YA authors Adele Griffin, Jason Reynolds, and Stephanie Garber. This group discussed the unique challenges and values in writing for young people, and how many classic and celebrated novels feature teenaged protagonists. They also discussed low moments in their own lives and careers that have influenced their writing.

ya panel

The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood and Showrunner Bruce Miller from the New Series on Hulu: This panel featured author Margaret Atwood and director/screenwriter Bruce Miller from the newest television adaptation. It was truly an honor and privilege to see Ms. Atwood and learn how real-life events influenced her dystopian novel. Bruce Miller discussed the challenges of bringing elements of The Handmaid’s Tale to the small screen.

margaret atwood

Transforming a Bestseller onto the Silver Screen: A Book to Film Adaptation: This panel featured YA authors Lauren Oliver, Nicola Yoon, RJ Palacio, and Stephen Chbosky. These authors discussed the sometimes lengthy and complicated journey from selling the rights to their novel to attending the premiere of the movie adaptation.

book to film

Signings/Meet and Greets

One of my only complaints regarding BookCon is the system employed to distribute signing and meet and greet tickets. Tickets go on sale on a predetermined day, and once they are sold out, there are no more chances to have a book signed by that author. I much prefer the lottery system used by other conventions. That aside, I left BookCon with two signed novels and a professional photograph.

Kevin Hart: My husband and I are fans of the comedian Kevin Hart, so it was extremely exciting to briefly meet and be photographed with him. We also received copies of Kevin’s autobiography I Can’t Make This Up.

kevin hart

Kwame Alexander: I teach Alexander’s novel-in-verse The Crossover, so I was excited to meet him in person and tell him how much the book means to me and my students. If you are having difficulties getting your students interested in poetry, check it out! I also received an early release of Alexander’s newest novel, Solo.

kwame alexander

Ashley Poston: Although I was at the Margaret Atwood panel at the time, my husband was kind enough to get my copy of Geekerella signed by author Ashley Poston. I loved this book—look for a review in the coming weeks!


Exhibitors and Free Stuff

One of the most enjoyable things about attending any convention is exploring the exhibition hall, and Book Con was certainly no exception. There were a countless number of exhibitors (no joke—I began to count them all but tired around 200) who were pedaling a wide array of book-related wares:  books in every category you can think of, graphic novels, bookish merchandise, subscription boxes, etc. The largest booths belonged to Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, and Chronicle Books, though smaller booths by independent publishers were also well-attended. Many of the booths also hosted their authors for signings—there was a particularly long line for Chelsea Clinton’s newest children’s book. I left with enough free stuff to weigh down an entire carry-on bag: pens and notepads, tote bags and backpacks, bookmarks, pins, stickers, magnets, playing cards, posters, beach balls, eyeglass cleaners, t-shirts, headphones…the list goes on.

But all BookCon attendees know that the true jewel of convention swag is a free book, and I was fortunate enough to snag several, pictured below. Which should I read and review first?

free books

If you want to see more of my BookCon pics and videos, follow  me on Instagram @ireadwhattheyread!