Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

When we first meet Anais, she is a mess. She is being shipped off to the Panopticon, a home in Scotland for children who are in the care of the government, while authorities determine whether she attacked a female police officer and put her in a coma. The story uses a setting based on a design for institutional buildings invented by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham.

Fifteen-year-old Anais has been transferred from place to place and family to foster family all her life. She has a history of violence, drugs, and crime, and she has no self control. She might be schizophrenic. They say her mother committed suicide. She thinks she may just be an experiment and that she is being watched by the Panopticon. She wants her mother!

We can't help but care for Anais, as she goes from one grim situation to another, because she is brilliant and lovable despite her tough exterior. As a parent, I wish I had known the phrase her social workers use constantly, "It's not optional."

Author Jenni Fagan makes liberal use of Scottish slang and obscenities to punctuate the thoughts and fantasies of Anais and the friends she makes in the kiddie slammer. You'll probably need to have the Urban Dictionary close by to get past page one.

For all those who think nothing can be done about child abuse, rape, prostitution, and poverty: they're wrong. We've got to believe that--that Anais gets out, even as she finally realizes she has to deal with life alone.

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