This is one of those books I'd read lots of good things about. It had high praise from some brilliant writers and I was really desperate to read it. However, as usual, that means that I was also reluctant to start reading it. I didn't want to be disappointed. I didn't want my high expectations to come crashing down. And now I feel really stupid and wish I had read it much sooner. Because this book was awesome.
At fifteen years old, Anais Hendricks has been through a hell of a lot. Born in a psychiatric facility to a schizophrenic mother, she is a lifer - a child who has been in the care system since birth and due to circumstance and behavioural issues can be expected to move from a care home to the prison system as an adult. There was a brief time in her childhood when things looked good for Anais. She had a loving adoptive Mother, who despite coming with her own set of issues, was a good Mum, providing Anais with a lively and educated upbringing. But things turned sour and Anais found herself back in the system, bouncing from one group home to the next and getting herself into a whole host of trouble in the process.
We first meet Anais in the back of a police car en route to the Panopticon, a care home for chronic young offenders. Anais knows why she's heading there - everybody thinks that she tried to murder a policewoman. What she doesn't know, is whether she is guilty. Yes, there's blood on her school skirt but she was far too off her face on various drugs to remember what she may or may not have done.
What follows is her journey through the trials and tribulations of proving her innocence, as well as trying to figure out who she really is when she has no idea where she really came from. There are a lot of really cool ideas in this book linking to identity that show just how important it is to our sense of self to know who our family are and how we came into the world. Being uncertain of her origins has led Anais to the belief that she was created by 'the Experiment' as a sort of study. She believes that the Experiment are continuously watching and monitoring her and that her life is nothing but one huge investigation into the human mind.
I loved the character of Anais, she's a girl you can really identify with. She's strong-willed, passionate and has an inner strength that a lot of us could really learn from. She doesn't let all of the shit she's gone through define her and she's so brilliantly clever and astute that you just want to get inside her mind and really rummage around in there until you find the answer to the meaning of life.
This novel tackles a lot of issues: the care system, sexuality, self harm, suicide, rape, murder, drug use, HIV, mental illness plus a lot more that I just can't even label. It's a fabulous, heart-wrenching, enlightening book and I would recommend it to anyone who has room for a troubled teen protagonist in their heart.