Following an incident that left a policewoman in a coma, fifteen year old Anais Hendricks is transported to The Panopticon, a home for juvenile offenders. Ever cautious of her caretakers, Anais will attempt to clear her name while digging into her past and working to protect the new family she creates.
Fagan paints a gritty, truthful picture of the world Anais calls home: a constantly changing place with regularly rotating names and faces, where guilt is assumed and innocence is rarely an option. Raised an orphan, Anais teaches herself to adapt to this world by building up a nearly impenetrable exterior by the time she arrives at The Panopticon. Soon, however, the similarities between Anais and her housemates become clear and strong bonds begin to form.
The dialect used in The Panopticon feels slightly jarring, perhaps because the spelling and phonetics don’t seem to match, at least to an unfamiliar American. I found myself stopping to repeat the words written in the Scottish dialect, which tended to remove me from the story instead of bringing the setting to life. This may be a case where I would have preferred the audiobook version in order to get more fully immersed.
As a whole, Fagan’s debut is successful in its ability to show the reality behind the curtain of social work. With no holding back, The Panopticon is a flood of drugs, violence, sex, cursing and injustice – everything a real teenager in Anais’ situation would be submerged in. But there are the smallest moments of hope; brief snapshots of self-assured confidence that prove even the toughest exteriors can be broken.