It is the summer of 1996, and Frankie is a16-year-old bookish introverted girl living in a dismal town called Coalfield, when she meets Zeke, similarly nerdy, who just moved there from Memphis.
"It was like, we had covered the big narratives, the ways our families had fallen apart, how we felt so different from everyone else, how desperately we wanted to make something important...."
Frankie is writing a novel and Zeke likes to draw, and one day they decide to create something together. Frankie comes up with the cryptic phrase, “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.” She writes it on a piece of paper with a black crayon, then Zeke illustrates it with “power lines…shacks…a burned-out car…a pack of wild dogs…and two giant, disembodied hands, the fingers withered and jagged…reaching for…children in…beds….” Frankie has an old Xerox machine in her garage, and she and Zeke blanket the town with their poster, keeping their authorship secret. All kinds of theories emerge about who made the poster and what it means; an art professor compares it to the work of Basquiat, a couple teens make up stories about the “fugitives” capturing them, the sheriff declares it the work of “dark forces,” and people start to get obsessed and out of control with it.
Twenty years later Frankie is contacted by a reporter who believes Frankie created the poster that created what had come to be known as “The Coalfield Panic,” and Frankie grapples with whether she will tell her story.
I read Now Is Not the Time to Panic because I had loved author Kevin Wilson’s previous quirky novel, Nothing to See Here, about young siblings who spontaneously combust when they get upset. Wilson has a knack for touching the oddities in all of us, and we can’t help but love his characters who are just trying to cobble together a sense of self-worth however they can.
There are only a couple minor 50+ characters in this novel (Frankie's mother and her performance artist neighbor) but I included it here as it would make another super buddy-read with a teen in your life!
Hardcover 256 pages, Audiobook 6 hours, 13 minutes