When Samantha can’t control her panic attacks, college turns out to be more of a nightmare than an adventure.

Samantha’s always had to be perfect for her parents. She went to a specialized kindergarten and grade school, a private high school, and summer study programs disguised as camps, and after an orgy of essay-writing, the perfect college. Finally, she thinks, she will be free of her parents and their demands, able to reinvent herself and find her own life.

But it’s not as easy as she’d thought it would be. It’s hard to know how to fit in, which kids to make friends with, which to ignore. There are new sets of rules, and she doesn’t know them. If she breaks the rules, she won’t be perfect any more. Then one day in class, her hands start to shake. She starts to sweat, and feels like everyone is looking at her. Voices in her head tell her she’s not okay, she’s never been okay. And one day, she can’t stay in the classroom one more second. She runs to the bathroom, and sits with her chest on her knees, hugging herself, trying to breathe, feeling herself burning up inside, and not knowing what is happening to her. And then it happens over and over, day after day. It’s a pattern: get up, go to class, feel hot, feel cold, feel people staring, fake a coughing spell, go to the restroom, sit down, battle until the attack is over. Over and over, day after day.

Finally Samantha realizes she can’t go on. She goes to a psychologist, then a psychiatrist, who gives her pills that make the fear quieter, easier to ignore. Jean, the psychologist, explains that she’s having panic attacks, and that they are going to work together on switching off the big red panic button in Samantha’s head that causes them.

But knowing what’s happening doesn’t make the attacks go away. Even with the pills, they still lurk, threatening her sanity. All Samantha want to do is fit in, be perfect, live the life she was supposed to lead. But how can she, when she feels so much of the time like she’s going crazy?

This booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart