Review: Panther by David Owen

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Image from Goodreads

Title: Panther
Author: David Owen
Publisher: Atom
Publication Date: May 2016
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Goodreads

Life isn’t going terribly well for Derrick; he’s become severely overweight, his only friend has turned on him, he?s hopelessly in love with a girl way out of his league, and it’s all because of his sister. Her depression, and its grip on his family, is tearing his life apart. When rumours start to circulate that a panther is roaming wild in his south London suburb, Derrick resolves to turn capture it. Surely if he can find a way to tame this beast, he’ll be able to stop everything at home from spiraling towards disaster?

Panther is a bold and emotionally powerful novel that deals candidly with the effects of depression on those who suffer from it, and those who suffer alongside them.

REVIEW BY SAM – YEAR 11

‘Can you control a beast you can’t see?’ reads the inscription on the front cover of ‘Panther‘, a  phrase that perfectly captures the mystery, distress and futility of this book. Written by David Owen, a previous sufferer of depression, it is easy to see why such a brutally honest book on the illness as this would earn a place on the Telegraph’s ‘ Best Young Adult Books of 2015’ list, and rightfully so.

The story intimately follows the life of Derrick, a teenage boy who, as well as dealing with his own problems and insecurities, feels his sister’s depression has caused a sense of entrapment in the family household. The tension becomes unbearable to the point of disarray at a time when family stability is vital in order for Charlotte, Derrick’s sister, to complete her exams in the hope of reaching University. It seems this hope is disappearing as Charlotte’s depression continues to manifest. However, a potential solution has arisen. Recent sightings of a black Panther in the area give Derrick the opportunity to not only escape the despair that is such a burden, but, to capture the ‘beast’ that has caused this misery.

For a contemporary piece, I feel this is not a typical narrative as it does not have the pace and excitement of many modern novels. Instead, ‘Panther‘ uses atmosphere to develop the storyline. Through the use of this method, the reader can sense the depression getting progressively worse. Likewise, the reader senses the effect  of Charlotte’s illness on all members of the family, allowing them to sympathise more with the characters. I thought this was very cleverly done and is what sets this book apart from similar novels, many of which draw upon clichés and feel detached or unsentimental.

Despite character development being slow, by the end of the book I felt I had gained insight into Derrick’s life and found I could relate to him. I could understand why he made certain decisions and why capturing the ‘beast’ was so important for him. On the contrary, however, secondary characters such as Hadley and Tamoor appeared inconsistent both in personality and attitude. It would have made more sense to exclude these characters, emphasising the confinement that Derrick feels is bound by his sister’s illness. They do not detract from the quality of the story, but, equally, they do not seem to fit in harmoniously with the surrounding story.

Overall, the book was a poignant read although teetering on the verge of harrowing. The plot was cleverly assembled and coherently written. Normally, I would not consider reading a book of this ilk, nonetheless I can appreciate the quality and complex construction of the story which makes it an enjoyable read. Undoubtedly, ‘Panther‘ will receive much recognition in the Young Adult category.

Recommended age: 14+

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