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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Someone's Watching, Always Watching OR The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Book Type: Trainspotting meets Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Stereotype Alert: none

Cover Art: Jail cell plus tiny, tiny Anais?

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Blech.  Okay.  Um... Angus, Shortie, Jay et. al?

Character Score: 8 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Constant criminal and perpetual foster care teen Anais is being carted off to a new group home in handcuffs.  Did she really beat that cop into a coma?  Will this home be any different than the scores of others?

X-Factor:  Dialect

Cover Art: I've seen better, I've seen worse.  I am glad, however, that this cover isn't a black a white picture of a teen with smudged eyeliner huddled against a brick wall.  That would be the worst possible choice for this book.  So, I dunno.  I'll give it a C+.  I would like to state for the record that the title alone gives me flashbacks to grad school and a class where we had to read Foucault's Discipline and Punish. I am creeped out already.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: This was a tough one since so many of the people Anais knows are completely shitty human beings.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it wouldn't be too out of character for Anais to sleep with Angus- even if he is her social worker.  A. she slept with a teacher at her high school and B. Angus gives Anais weed.  So, yeah. Maybe.  I love Shortie.  I just want to bundle her and Anais up and set them down in their own little apartment to live a normal life.  I won't even get started on Jay.  What a fucking creep.  Hope you get shanked in prison, bitch.

Character Score: No contest here.  This book is all about Anais and her world of foster care teens.  They all have their own quirks and wounds and you can't help but love them due to Fagan's vivid writing.

What's the Story?:

pan·op·ti·con  /paˈnäptiˌkän/- noun.  A circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed. 
Oxford English Dictionary

Anais Hendricks is unlike any fifteen-year-old you've probably ever met.  Orphaned by a woman who gave birth at a mental hospital and then disappeared, Anais has spent her entire life in the foster care system in Scotland.  As the book opens, we find our lead character in the back of a police car (a rather normal occurrence for Anais) headed to a new group home.  This home is actually the Panopticon; a former mental institution with 24/7 surveillance.  The Panopticon is used to house the most serious juvenile offenders and Anais soon finds herself in the company of a handful of teens who are either A. broken, B. mentally unstable, C. violent or D. all of the above.  But Anais doesn't have to work very hard to prove her status in this new home since her reputation has reached the doors before the police car: Anais is suspected of beating a policewoman so badly that she is now in a coma.  Anais, however, was higher than a kite at the time of the crime and can remember nothing.  

The story is told from Anais' point of view and is filled with her frustration with the system (it's amazing what the social workers don't ask), her dreams and commentary about "the experiment" and flashbacks to her adoptive mother who was murdered when Anais was still young.  Anais, like many kids in foster care homes, bonds quickly and deeply with her fellow "inmates" and they become a new family unit.  When the threat of throwing Anais into a secure lock-up until she can be placed in a regular jail looms near, and devastating events throw her new family into chaos, Anais must decide if she is going to the criminal everyone in the foster system assumes she is or if she will discover her true self.

X-Factor: I canae even tell you how fucking fun the dialog in this book is.  If you arenae a fan of dialect (i.e A Clockwork Orange or even The Sound and the Fury) you will probably nae enjoy this novel.  But if like me, you were instantly transported with flashbacks of Spud and Sick Boy, you will appreciate the world that Fagan is portraying.  

This is a very gritty, realistic telling of a life that has always been hard.  One that probably won't get any better.  Anais talks openly about drug abuse, prostitution, child molesters, rape and AIDS.  Ultimately, if Fagan's goal was to shine a harsh light on the modern-day foster car system, she has succeeded.  Readers will potentially be horrified by the experiences Anais has lived through, but will want to cheer for her to become a healthy, independent person.  The easiest explanation of this book that I can give is this:  it is like Trainspotting took place in the foster care system and all of the main characters are much younger and have infinitely shittier lives.  But in a good way?  I dinnae.  Don't be a fanny.  Read The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.

PS- sorry the formatting is super weird on this post.  Blogger hates me today!


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