What emerges is a sort of literary laboratory of consciousness, anatomizing an all-consuming yet elusive feeling-pattern to explore what it takes to break the tyranny of worry and what it means to feel at home in oneself. Part of the splendor of the book is the way Stern unspools the thread of being to the very beginning, all the way to the small child predating conscious memory ... Little Panic stands as a mighty antidote to that universal fear [that 'there’s a single, unattainable, correct way to be human'].
At times, Stern’s obsessive ruminations can be exhausting. I wanted to shake her and say, 'Get some perspective,' but this is precisely the point: For a person with panic disorder, perspective is impossible.
While the supposed tension of the book rests on a discovery—the diagnosis Stern finally receives—the real tension lies in how and whether she will evolve in spite of it ... Eventually Stern learns that she’s not made of paper and won’t blow away. All the times she thought she would die, she didn’t. And some of the 'terrifying' things she thought would happen actually did; she didn’t get married, she didn’t have children. But nevertheless she adapted and flourished in other ways .... 'Here I am now,' she writes, 'living inside the very future I feared, imagining it would kill me. Yet I am O.K. I am alive.'
Don’t expect a traditional happily-ever-after ending; but don’t expect a gloomy one, either. Stern’s story is a good reminder that all people, including those who 'learn differently,' need empathy and human connection.