The Panopticon

After a life of countless foster homes and juvenile offenses, 15-year-old Anais Hendricks now faces jail time after allegedly putting an abusive police officer in a coma. Anais doesn't remember assaulting the officer but, due to drugs and alcohol, she also doesn't remember anything else. While awaiting her fate, Anais is hauled to the Panopticon, a high-security foster-care facility. Like Anais, the other "clients" here have faced abuse and neglect, often by the adults who were responsible for protecting them.

Set in Scotland and thus evoking inevitable comparisons to Trainspotting, Jenni Fagan's debut novel, The Panopticon, depicts the devastating realities of lifelong foster care. Sensitive and precocious beyond her years, Anais reads avidly (from classics to vampire novels) and dreams of a future beyond the surveillance of what she calls "the experiment."

Fagan excels at portraying the desolation of a child unmoored who, in her short life, has experienced and witnessed abuse--and even dealt with the grisly murder of a loved foster mother. By the time Anais reaches the Panopticon, she views every adult as a potential--and likely--enemy.

A reader of The Panopticon becomes entrenched in Anais's mind, absorbing her acid observations and theories, as well as the flashbacks that gradually shed light on her past. Enjoyment of the novel very much hinges on whether the reader enjoys Anais's voice. While Fagan introduces various elements of plot--a mysterious coma, the question of whether Anais's fear of "the experiment" is sane--what the novel does best is to illuminate harshly, like the light from the security tower at the center of the Panopticon, a life most readers are unlikely to observe firsthand. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post

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