The Panopticon

  • by Jenni Fagan
  • Narrated by Gayle Madine
  • 9 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Anais Hendricks, 15, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais' school uniform. Smart, funny, and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child, who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met.
The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job for an elephant sanctuary in India but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her birth before she goes. Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: She is part of an experiment, she always was, it's a given, a liberty - a fact. And the experiment is closing in.
In language dazzling, energetic, and pure, The Panopticon introduces us to a heart-breaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Girl with a Shark's Heart

At first, I passed on this novel because of the few negative reviews - and that was a mistake.

The story opens with Anais, a 15 year-old veteran of the Scottish welfare system, sitting in a police car.

Having spent her life shuffled between foster homes, she is finally being transferred to a prison-cum-juvenile-center for the duration of a police investigation wherein she is the prime suspect. Despite unrelenting outrageous fortune, Anais has not become a blank-eyed waif or mindlessly vicious bully like so many of those around her. While occasionally and astonishingly misguided, she has not sacrificed her sense of self.

It starts: "sometimes I feel like a motherless child" and with a lilting, dreamy tone, Fagan deftly constructs a deeply caring, fierce young girl carving her way through a mean world. This debut author - a poet by trade - imbues her protagonist with an exquisite vulnerability and steely resilience. Anais is a philosopher on psychedelics; she dances lightly between reality and unreality as she tries to survive a prejudiced and casually cruel welfare system.

This novel is not flawless; it's sometimes slow or aimlessly provocative - but Fagan's language, which jumps from supernal to vulgar and back again, makes up for the plot's rough edges.

The narrator too, deserves applause. Her accent (comprehensible, perfect) and pace are absolutely, unreservedly wonderful. She is a seamless fit for Anais.

All told, I'd highly recommend it.
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- linda

The Panopticon

I was first drawn to The Panopticon after reading the synopsis. Right after college I worked with "troubled" kids, first as a Mental Health Associate in a Behavioral Health Center and then as a Behavioral Specialist at an alternative school, and Anais sounded like many of the kids I came into contact with during those years. I worked with kids that had experienced unspeakable childhoods and some that did horrible things, but what I learned from all of them was that each had learned how to survive and cope with the world they lived in the best they could. Many had been let down, time and time again, by those adults and institutions that were supposed to help them and keep them safe and were therefore incredibly suspicious of any that came into their lives. How could anyone blame them for that? This aspect of the story, combined with the mystery of whether or not Anais had harmed the policewoman and what part "the experiment" played in the whole thing, drew me in. While I can't say all my questions were answered by the last page I can say this character-driven story was powerful and heartbreaking, and important reading for anyone trying to understand the mind of children let down by the same society that views them as the problem.

I purchased The Panopticon as an eBook/audiobook combo but ended up listening to the audiobook for the majority of the story. The narrator (Gayle Madine) has a very heavy British accent and this, combined with the profuse slang used, made it difficult at first to keep up with what was happening. Once I got used to this, however, I really enjoyed the inflections and feelings she put into the story. Even with the heavy subject matter being discussed, the lives of these young offenders are infused with humor and love that felt very real and made me hope they would somehow all come out the other side of their tangled young lives happy and healthy (which, of course, is not realistic). While some readers might find the slang, heavy cursing, violent actions and drug use discussed a turnoff, I think it was completely necessary to present this world of damaged and neglected children as realistically as possible.

The majority of the story takes place in Anais's head, which is an interesting perspective as it makes some aspects very fanciful or gritty while also making some of what she tells us unreliable. As the synopsis points out, Anais has been moved around from one home to another since she was a baby and she has developed a long list of habits and rituals to help her cope and control what she can, as I imagine most children in her situation would do. Anais is a remarkable character, clever and sensitive (about certain things at least) but also cynical and desensitized given her experiences. I spent much of the story going back and forth between believing she had severe mental issues - with her believing she is part of an experiment where she is constantly watched and manipulated by unseen people that want to see her locked up for life, panic attacks were she sees faces on the walls and feels like she is shrinking, her inability to remember what happened at the time the policewoman was beaten so badly she ends up in a coma - and feeling like she had a better handle on this world than most adults do. She's caring, abusive, generous, selfish...in other words she is a complex and flawed person like everyone else. It isn't often I come across a character that is as destructive as Anais and that I wholeheartedly cheer for nonetheless, but that is exactly what happened.

My only real issue with The Panopticon was the author's failure to wrap up the various threads she started in the story. Two of the main aspects - the policewoman in a coma and the experiment tracking Anais - sort of drifted off by the end. The reader isn't given any concrete answers to either issue and this made the drama and mystery just sort of deflate for me. There are other more minor threads, like the disappearance of a fellow Panopticon resident and the fate of Anais's incarcerated boyfriend that used her in a most horrible way, that are left unresolved as well. The fate of Anais herself is left somewhat unresolved and, while I can see that the author is leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, I would have preferred a little more resolution when it came to the future of these captivating characters.

Author Jenni Fagan clearly knows how to get inside the heads and hearts of young people who are forced to cope with things that no human should have to cope with and I think she presents these mistreated and neglected children perfectly. The family that develops at the Panopticon is remarkable and I absolutely loved spending time with them. While I would have preferred more concrete resolutions, those readers that enjoy drawing their own conclusions will revel in the material given. I won't soon forget Anais or her compatriots and I will definitely watch for more novels by Ms. Fagan.
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- Colleen T.

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-14-2012
  • Publisher: Audible Studios