Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Panic Book Poster Image
Tense tale of teens facing fears to win risky competition.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Could spark teens to think about risk -- and why young people often feel compelled toward risky behavior. Does a competition like this one seem realistic or not? 

Positive Messages

The teen competitors are often afraid during challenges, but they're also afraid of their lives. Heather fears not being loved and being left behind as everyone goes off to start their lives. Dodge wishes that everything could go back to how it was before his sister's accident. Eventually, they learn to let go of the past and start building the futures they want. There are also messages about loyalty and taking care of the people you love.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Heather and Dodge do a lot of dangerous things in this book, but they're driven mostly by loyalty to their siblings, both of whom are in hard situations. In the end, the main characters learn to be good friends to one another; they also learn to face their fears and take responsibility for their actions. 


One girl holds a gun to her head during a game of Russian roulette. A man shoots at kids breaking into his house. There are fistfights and car accidents, and characters are hospitalized after being trapped during a fire. A girl remembers her father's suicide. A boy plans to blow up his car, killing another boy. A girl is thrown in a pool wearing handcuffs. A tiger tries to eat a dog. 


Some kissing, including one pretty passionate scene on a trampoline, and characters put their hands in each others pockets. A teen girl has sex with a man who says he'll help her become a model.   


Lots of swearing, including "f--k" and its variations. Also, plenty of uses of words such as "a--hole," "s--t," "bitch," and more. 


A few brands, such as Coke, Taco Bell, Subway, and Ford Taurus, but nothing's really glamorized.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink at parties, and a girl character is often drunk. A mother's always partying, either drinking or doing drugs. She even drives drunk. A man dies of a drug overdose.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lauren Oliver's Panic is about a dangerous game that teens play for money: They participate in a series of challenges, including walking on a small platform between two water towers and breaking into a man's house to steal objects; one girl even holds a gun to her head during a game of Russian roulette. There are fistfights and dangerous drives, and a man overdoses on drugs. Characters are hospitalized after being trapped during a fire. A teen girl has sex with a man who says he will help her become a model. There's also a lot of swearing, teen drinking, drugs, and some kissing. Ultimately, the main characters learn to be good friends to one another and to face their fears, take responsibility for their actions, and start building the futures they want. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 1, 3, and 10-year-old Written byJennifer P. May 13, 2017

Wonderful Suspense!

This book is absolutely amazing! I read it in two days and I learned a lot of it. First, know that this is a book where graduating seniors take part in deadly c... Continue reading
Adult Written byParentschoices July 26, 2015

Very interesting

It has a very interesting plot with a lot of imagination. Although it has mild things such as swearing which isn't too visible as the story is the main thi...
Teen, 15 years old Written bylivlivliv13 June 15, 2019

What's the story?

Life in Carp, N.Y., is pretty dead-end, which is why so many graduating high school seniors play Panic. The game of escalating -- and often life-risking -- dares finally finishes at summer's end when a lone winner takes the pot, collected all year from the entire student body. This year the pot is $67,000. That money would mean everything to Heather, allowing her to leave the trailer park she lives in with her often high mother and build a new life for her and her younger sister. Meanwhile, Dodge is focused on revenge against a family he blames for leaving his sister in a wheelchair after a Panic game gone bad. As the competition heats up -- and Heather and Dodge continue to advance -- readers will wonder: Will either of them get what they're really after?

Is it any good?

The premise of PANIC is pretty genius, and readers will find themselves having to take a break to catch their breaths during some of the challenges. In one, blindfolded competitors must cross six lanes of highway traffic, and clever readers will know that when Heather goes to work for a woman caring for two abandoned tigers that the big cats are going to play some role in the game.

Author Lauren Oliver sets her story in a well-drawn and depressing town, creating a convincing reason for her teen characters to put their lives on the line for a chance to get out. She builds the tension well, too, right up to a final night of chicken races on a country road. But, even then, there are some surprising twists for the protagonists to navigate.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the competition. Does it seem realistic that so many teens would compete in challenges that could kill them?

  • Have you read other books about young people competing with their lives (like, say, in The Hunger Games)? How does Panic compare?

  • Does writing about fictional teens doing dangerous dares make real-life teens more likely to do them? Or do you think it's pretty clear the challenges here go too far?

Book details

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For kids who love great stories for young adults

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