Fifteen-year old Anais Hendricks is smart, funny and fierce, but she is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. Sitting in the back of a police car, she finds herself headed for the panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders where the social workers are as shifty and suspicious of newcomers as its residents. But Anais can’t remember the events that have led her there, or why she has blood on her school uniform…
Anais has lived in too many homes to remember and at fifteen has been criminalised by 147 offences to date. The panoptican, a former prison, metaphorically illustrates just how too many ‘care’ children end up behind bars. Most of Anais’ life has been incarceration of one sort or another. Nowhere has there been care or kindness, except from her former adoptive mother, who was a prostitute.
The inmates have no one, except each other. When Anais arrives, on edge – she’ll need to have all her wits about her to survive yet another placement – typically not knowing why she has been placed there. A bond with the other ‘inmates’ grows and which has no barriers or walls. A bond grown from shared, abusive, pasts that often need no words.
The Panoptican (2012) is still number one on my list of orphan literature, which is why I chose it for Christmas Day. Anais’ journey through care, a year off leaving the system, sees her strive for autonomy. What makes the most striking initial impression from this illuminated text is the hard-hitting voice of a young girl already too wise and old for her years. The language, tone and invented words all serve to create a unique story. There is still nothing quite like it on the literary shelves.
The Panoptican is published by Windmill Books