My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The panopticon, as described originally by Jeremy Bentham, is a classic image in political theory and social philosophy, a design that uses surveillance as a form of discipline, by creating a space where at all times the observed can not know when the observer is watching. The detention center that Jenni Fagan’s character Anais is sent to in The Panopticon is based on Betham’s model for ideal prison/school design. It was actually for the concept of the panopticon that I picked up this book.
Anais is a girl who has no known origins or roots, and who has survived by assuming that she has no one to count on but herself. Unfortunately she is raised as a foster child in the Scottish foster-care system, bouncing from household to houshold till at last the woman who would have kept her for the rest of her youth is killed and Anais is left once again to survive on her own ingenuity and scant, elusive resources. She lands in a juvenile group home that is part detention center, part orphanage, a home for children that no one wants. The adults running the center seem to really care about the kids in the facility, but it is still not a home, and the kids living there know and accept that it is just a step away from prison.
Fagan’s book is a great elaboration and analysis of the panopticon concept, but she also provides her readers with a story of transcendence, as Anais peels away the layers of her youth and discovers a way to escape her otherwise disasterous life. There are so many layers to this book that I wish I was a literature professor so I could assign this book for a class and spend weeks discussing it.
Some readers have said that this book is not ‘YA’ because it has strong language and ‘adult’ situations, but I have to wonder what YA would be for, if it could not discuss the world that real teenagers experience every day. I am sure most teenagers have used cuss words, and actually the real world for many teenagers is far more harsh than what Jenni Fagan portrays. I group this book within the genre of modern literature, because it is a well-crafted book that could easily belong in the ‘classics’ for centuries to come. But, yes I do think this is also a YA book, just not an easy one.
I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for a fair review.