When I did finally get started on The Panopticon, I was surprised at how quickly I became interested in the story. I had heard it was dark and gritty, and somewhat violent, and I think I was sort of prepared to not like it so much. It didn't take long to become invested in the story, however, and I found myself quite attached to Anais by the end of the second chapter. I was so consumed by the story that I even quickly began to read over the Scottish dialect without having to think about it for too long. (Unfamiliar dialect can really detract from a story sometimes, when I am constantly having to stop and figure out what's really being said. That was not so much the case here, after a few pages.)
Anais Hendricks, nearly sixteen, has been in the foster care system for her entire life. When we meet her in this story, she is on her way to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders, after being accused of assaulting a policewoman. We are quickly given a brief insight into the difficult life Anais has lived, being shuffled around in the system, with very few people who ever looked out for her best interests.
Anais is as tough as she is pitiable, and she quickly forms a bond with some of the other kids at her latest "home". The other kids come from a variety of backgrounds, many as harsh and depressing as Anais's. They all have their own stories, each as compelling as the next. (Okay, I'll admit it, Isla's was the one that got to me the most; oh, how I just want to love that girl!) At its heart, The Panopticon is the story of these children of the system, most particularly Anais, but the others as well, and how they keep fighting in a world that just wants to discard them.
There was a surprisingly happy twist at the end of this book, one I'm not sure I can completely trust. (After all, much of the story is told from Anais's drug-addled point of view and we know she makes up elaborate stories about her past.) But you know what? I'm going with it--I am choosing to believe she got that happy ending and that Anais is living just as simply and happily as she always dreamed she might. (I loved the ending, honestly.)
I should note, as have many others, that this book is not for the faint of heart. There is no shortage of violence, terrible language, drug use, and sex...but it's all part of the institutional setting of the story. Even though it was distressing and a bit hard to read at times, I am grateful to this book for putting me back in the mood to curl up and read at the end of the day!