I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
The First Rule of Panic is DON'T TALK ABOUT PANIC!
Well sort of/not really. EVERYONE in Carp, NY talks about Panic. Everyone knows about Panic. Panic is an underground game/rite of passage anyone graduating from high school is eligible to participate in the summer just after graduation. Panic is not officially sanctioned, and the police are constantly trying to shut it down. One of the rules for participants is not to talk to police about Panic.
This book is a YA stand-alone (not part of a trilogy), takes place in the present, and not a dystopian. All of which feels quite refreshing.
Whoever wins Panic gets a $50,000 prize. It winners have tended to use that prize money as a way to get out of Carp, NY and never look back.
The narrative point of view switches between Heather and Dodge, both Panic participants. It is told in a third-person limited POV, and in past tense (which also feels refreshing after having read sooooo much first-person, present-tense narration lately). For Heather, winning would mean getting herself and Lily away from their alcoholic, drug-abusing mother and the trailer they live in. For Dodge, winning would be a means to take revenge against Todd, who won two years earlier in a final challenge that left Dodge's older sister Dana unable to use her legs due to an accident. (Todd's younger brother Ray is a player in the current game of Panic, and Dodge is thinking "your brother's life for my sister's legs.")
Heather and Dodge become linked through their mutual friendship with Heather's best friend Natalie, aka Nat. (Sometimes I wish authors gave some more thought to the audio version of their work. Heather had her best friend Nat, but also an ex-boyfriend Matt. They sound wayyyy too similar in audio narration. To make matters worse, Heather has a habit of occasionally addressing her sister Lily as "Billie.")
As one would hope, this book turns out to be about much more than the game Panic. The game just turns out to be the mechanism through which each character goes through an internal growth process as well as having to reevaluate assumptions about the other people in their lives. I will say that I had a bit of trouble taking to this narrative, as it just drops readers/listeners into the opening event of Panic. But once I had a handle on what was going on, it didn't take very long for Lauren Oliver to pull me in. I recommend this book and will definitely read more works by this author (having also enjoyed her Delirium trilogy).