The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
Anais Hendricks is a fifteen year old orphan who is taken to the Panopticion, a home for chronic young offenders, after she is suspected of putting a policewoman in a coma. After an endless list of charges relating to drugs and violence, the police have tagged her and stated that if she commits any single offence she will be detained in a secure unit, without review, until she is eighteen.
Anais accepts her bleak future as she believes she is an experiment, watched 24/7 by people determined to break her. In the Panopticion a watchtower allows the staff to monitor her every move and Anais feels those watching her are close to victory. This ‘Big Brother’ theme shows great dramatic potential, but is quickly abandoned in preference for exposing the gritty reality of life in care.
The novel is crammed with deliberately shocking content: prostitution, rape, aids, bestiality, suicide, but nothing is explored in enough depth to really hit home. Panopticon demonstrates powerful criticism of a society that fails to help young people escape a life in 'the system', moving from care, to young offenders, to prison, but the novel's inability to follow ideas through is frustrating. [Rowena McIntosh]