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Now Is Not the Time to Panic


Now Is Not the Time to Panic

Kevin Wilson’s latest novel, NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO PANIC, starts innocently enough. Two awkward teens stumble their way through a summer by making out and making art. The romance is short-lived but pivotal. The impact of the art will resonate for years, have an unintentional yet massive reception, and set their lives on a particular course. This book exemplifies Wilson’s blend of quirky setup and deeply poignant exploration of the human condition.

Frankie Budge is a lonely but imaginative 16-year-old. All but invisible in relation to her hellion triplet brothers, and in the wake of her parents’ divorce, she dreams of writing Nancy Drew-style mysteries and is keenly aware of how different she is from the kids around her in the small town of Coalfield, Tennessee. At the local pool she meets Zeke Brown. He and his mother are there for the summer as she tries to decide whether or not to leave her husband permanently. Frankie and Zeke connect right away. They are both artistic dreamers, not yet grown into their bodies, and only coming to realize the heft of their own emotions and potential.

"NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO PANIC is sweet but never saccharine, and honest without ever being cruel to its characters.... Wilson has penned another winner."

The summer takes a sharp turn after they create a piece of art. The resulting poster highlights a strange phrase that Frankie writes and Zeke decorates with a potent line drawing --- The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us --- which they then sprinkle with their own blood. They instinctively understand the seemingly nonsensical sentences, which come to stand for all possibility, hope, anger, frustration, desire, longing and a primal creative impulse. They decide to put the poster up all over town and, in fact, become obsessed with doing so.

Reactions are mixed: awe, fear, suspicion, inspiration. The poster comes to be blamed for bad behavior and is the focal point of a local militia that summer. The paranoia and excitement it engenders leads to a series of accidents and violence in Coalfield, and begins to shake Frankie and Zeke, shifting their relationship until it, too, meets with violence. Zeke leaves, and Frankie is left to sort through the wreckage --- all but alone in the knowledge of both her responsibility and her power. That is, until many years later when a phone call from a reporter informs her that she soon will be outed as the artist behind the Coalfield Panic of 1996.

Before the article comes out, Frankie needs to come clean to her family, track down Zeke, and wrestle with how the poster shaped her life. She also must consider Zeke’s feelings and what it will mean when everyone knows whatever truths she plans to publicly share. Wilson brings together Frankie’s adolescent feelings with her adult responses for a novel that is both coming-of-age raw and grown-up wise. An adult Frankie reflects, “To be a teenager takes very little to think that someone else might actually know who you are, even as you spend all your time thinking that no one understands you. It’s such a lovely feeling.”

NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO PANIC is sweet but never saccharine, and honest without ever being cruel to its characters. With such a keen understanding of and patience for Frankie and Zeke, and the adults they grow into, Wilson has penned another winner. Theirs is a moving, lovely, at times very funny, and totally unforgettable story of deep secrets, wild expression and love of all kinds.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 18, 2022

Now Is Not the Time to Panic
by Kevin Wilson

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062913514
  • ISBN-13: 9780062913517