"Every time I walk through a new door, I feel exactly the same--two years old and ready to bite."
Fagan bites alright, bites hard in every statement from the mouth of her fifteen-year-old protagonist. Anais Hendricks has been in Scotland's foster care system since birth, cycled through twenty-three homes by the age of seven. Now she faces in a locked-down facility until she is eighteen, accused of bludgeoning a female officer who now lies in a coma. Her protestations of innocence gain no traction with the local police, who view Anais as a lost cause. She is remanded to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders in Midlothian, until the disposition of the pending case—her fifty-first placement.
In a scathing indictment of the agency meant to provide care for underage children, Anais relates a nightmarish existence and a sense of worthlessness bred by the system: "I...understand wholly that I am just a human being that nobody is interested in." A prime specimen of the revolving-door institutional mentality of the system, Anais is constantly moved from one facility to another for incorrigible behavior, plagued with drug abuse and violence, haunted by the murder of her adopted mum, constantly offending, with no biological ties to ground her. Despite her ordeal, Anais is a survivor. Her cheeky retorts and rebellious attitude to authority are a finely-tuned defense mechanism against the inhumanity she regularly faces.
Her language comes straight from the streets, liberally laced with curses, casual obscenity that might make some blush but is common to those who live in such conditions. She finds comfort in the love of her adoptive mother, a prostitute who is brutally murdered, and those who form a social network of the dispossessed, from drug dealers to pimps, common criminals and the savvy residents who live along the fringes of society. But she is tormented by the fear that she is merely an experiment, not a human born of a flesh-and-blood mother. Happy to escape through whatever drugs are available (acid, uppers, downers—but not heroin), Anais spends much of her time in a haze. She still functions well enough to escape notice, whether at the Panopticon or at the police station where she is interviewed about the attack. Her boyfriend, currently incarcerated, blatantly exploits Anais, a fact she finally recognizes, but only after a heinous betrayal that sends her staggering back to the Panopticon, battered and bruised.
The young people trapped in the system develop a society of their own with its own network of communication, rules of behavior and broad acceptance of unconventionality. Anais earns her place among a new "family": Isla, Tash, Shortie, Dylan and John. Within this intimate society, she learns to evaluate how she has arrived at the Panopticon, the last step before lockup. She takes charge of her own fate in an effort to shed the ignominy of her birth and the fears that follow her every move, rising with an anguished howl to protest the loss of one of their group and the usual tepid bureaucratic response. Leading the chorus of the damaged and broken children of a careless society, Anais refuses to be victimized by mass stupidity, claiming both her identity and her freedom regardless of the consequences.
Bold and in-your-face, this is not a book for the timid. It is the voice of the voiceless, the face of the nameless and the cry of the helpless against the warehousing of youngsters who have no safe place to find shelter. It's not surprising that their language is crass and irreverent, that they take whatever drugs they may buy or steal, that they are enraged when their boundaries are breached by those who render abuse instead of care. There is simply not enough outrage on behalf of those dependent on society, who learn the rules of life more likely from monsters than from caretakers, whose innocence is squandered through bureaucratic ineptness and stupidity. Fagan strikes a blow on their behalf, uninhibited and without apology.