The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon by Jenni FaganThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
Published by Crown Publishing Group on July 23rd 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours
Pages: 320
Buy from IndieBound

Following an incident that leaves a policewoman in a coma, fifteen year old Anais Hendricks is transported to The Panopticon, a home for juvenile offenders. Ever cautious of her caretakers, Anais attempts to clear her name while digging into her past and working to protect the new family she slowly creates.

Fagan paints a gritty, truthful picture of the world Anais calls home:  a constantly changing place with regularly rotating names and faces, where guilt is assumed and innocence is rarely an option. Raised an orphan, Anais teaches herself to adapt to this world by building up a nearly impenetrable exterior by the time she arrives at The Panopticon. Soon, however, the similarities between Anais and her housemates become clear and strong bonds begin to form. 

The dialect used in The Panopticon feels slightly jarring, perhaps because the spelling and phonetics don’t seem to match, at least to an unfamiliar American. I found myself stopping to repeat the words written in the Scottish dialect, which tended to remove me from the story instead of bringing the setting to life. This may be a case where I would have liked the audiobook version in order to get fully immersed.

As a whole, Fagan’s debut is successful in its ability to show the reality behind the curtain of juvenile social services. With no holding back, The Panopticon is a flood of drugs, violence, sex, cursing and injustice – everything a real teenager in Anais’ situation would be submerged in. But there are the smallest moments of hope; brief snapshots of Anais’ self-assured confidence that prove even the toughest exteriors can be broken.

“Here is what you don’t know – I’d lie down and die for someone I loved; I’d fuck up anyone who abused a kid, or messed with an old person. Sometimes I deal, or I trash things, or I get in fights, but I am honest as fuck and you’ll never understand that. I’ve read books you’ll never look at, danced to music you couldnae appreciate, and I’ve more class, guts and soul in my wee finger than you will ever, ever have in your entire, miserable fucking life.” 

Jenni Fagan spoke about The Panopticon in a recent NPR interview, where she explains a bit more about the novel’s backstory, including her experience in foster care.