Who could’ve known two small town teenagers were responsible for a mass panic through their art that they thought no one would care about? How did it get to a point where people lost their lives in the process? Can the two artist’s relationship survive throughout the chaos?
Author of the bestselling novels, The Family Fang and Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson brings in this new entry that follows Frankie and Zeke, two misfit teens from Coalfield, Tennessee, in the summer of 1996, who create a life-changing piece of art together, seeing the consequences that follow from it in front of their eyes. Twenty years later, a journalist searches for the original creators of the art for a story and finds out Frankie had something to do with it.
Frankie Budge is sixteen in the small town of Coalfield during the summer when she meets Zeke Brown, a boy, about the same age as her, from Memphis, who’s an artist. Frankie, with dreams of becoming a writer one day, makes friends with Zeke in their short time together, and they create a poster that quickly changes their lives forever, sending Coalfield into a panic in the process. With essentially nothing to do in Coalfield, the two spend most of their time together at Frankie’s house, finding a Xerox machine in the garage that her brothers apparently broke. Zeke figures out how to fix it, and the two experiment with Xerox art until they decide they want to make something that they can share with the world. On a piece of paper that would be copied a thousand times, Frankie writes the infamous slogan that surrounds this novel: The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us. Zeke draws art along with the words, and then they draw blood with an X-ACTO blade, staining the poster with red dots, and completing it. Frankie and Zeke make copies of the poster and obsessively put them up around town until everyone is forced to see them, creating a panic in the isolated town. The community stays vigilant for the criminals, Satanists, and kidnappers or who could’ve made the poster rather than two awkward teens. Wilson also provides social commentary through the sheer uproar, panic, and even death that occurs within the small community simply caused by a piece of art with a vague message.
Written with a great deal of narrative authority, Now is Not the Time to Panic covers the spread and impact of Frankie and Zeke’s poster in great and concrete detail that makes the reader nearly forget this is a fiction novel. Frankie and Zeke’s connection with each other – the bond they share with their similar life experiences of having both physically and emotionally absent fathers as teenagers is something that adds more depth to their characters and shows their connection on a deep emotional level that sparks a strong yet complicated relationship in a short amount of time during their summer together, making it much more believable than the luck that has them cross paths.
Wilson also writes a story about art: what it is; what it means to people; how it influences them. Art is almost like magic, the way it makes us feel and the unseeable movements and events that can unfold from a piece of paper that’s been drawn and written on in a certain way. Wilson writes this very real process within the novel, showing the obsessed artists and the people they impact with their art both positively and negatively beyond anything they could’ve imagined. The question of how much responsibility artists have regarding what people do with what they’ve created once it’s out into the world is also posed by Wilson. Frankie and Zeke come to grips with the impact of the poster in different ways as teenagers and later as adults throughout the novel.
Now is Not the Time to Panic is a uniquely written and genuine novel that explores the themes of the teenage experience in a small town and combines that with the act of creating art with a large impact, showing the complexities of relationships that are positively and negatively impacted by external forces.
Review written by Tracy Ingram, SoLit intern