“The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers, we are the new fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.”
I love Kevin Wilson’s writing. If you have never read one of his books just know that ‘Quirky’ is the best way to describe them. I always find his books perfect to read when I’m either in a reading rut or don’t know what I want to read. When I picked up Now is Not the Time to Panic, I had just finished two gothic reads that didn’t do much for me. I needed something that would fully consume me and of course Wilson delivered once again.
Frankie Budge is an outsider in her small town of Coalfield, Tennessee. Frankie, along with her mom and triple older brothers are what remains of her family, after her dad left them all for another woman. She’s a loner in the most boring town in America, that is until Zeke moves to town for the summer. Zeke and his mom are staying with his grandma, after his violin prodigy mom discovers his Zeke is cheating on her. Zeke and Frankie, both artists in their own right, hit it off immediately and are committed to a summer of creating. Frankie will finish her book while Zeke practices his drawing. With the discovery of a xerox machine in Frankie’s garage, the two decide to make something to share out in the world. Zeke quickly draws a collage of things, which stir up in Frankie’s mind the the phrase: “The edge is shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.”
With the poster done and copies made, the two set out into Coalfield to post it everywhere in town. As the town starts to take notice of these seemingly random posters, theories of where they came from emerge. While some believe the posters are satanic in nature, others in town find inspiration and being posting their own versions and other replicas around the town, until the phrase and the image can no longer be contained by the town. As theories escalate, the posters influence can be felt around the world and Coalfield becomes more than just a drive by town. Uncertainly begins to run the town as more out of towners flock to Coalfield to be apart of whatever cultural movement the posters signal. As the town fills up, a full out panic emergences, with the incident being known was the Coalfield Panic of 1996.
Two decades later, the creators and true meaning of the poster are still unidentified. That is until New Yorker reporter Mazzy Brower uncovers Frankie’s involvement. Is Frankie ready to take responsibility for starting the Panic and everything that came after?
First off, I love that Frankie’s older brothers are chaotic triplets. They don’t really have a big part of the story, but I could easily imagine them as the Weasley twins, if Fred and George worked at fast food joints and were the size of small tanks. The three of them are consumed more with their relationships with each other than Frankie, but there are constantly small nods to them looking out for Frankie, which I genuinely enjoyed. Older siblings doing small things to take care of their siblings always warm my heart.
Anyways, I love the awkwardness of both Frankie and Zeke. They are really coming into themselves in this story, and I enjoyed their relationship and the way their friendship ebbed and flowed over the summer. Wilson has perfectly captured what it’s like growing up in a small town, especially during the 90’s, on the verse of the internet boom. The depictions of our two main characters cruising around town with no significant place to be, really reminded me of my own summers as a teenager. Though I was a teen in the early 2000s Wilson’s writing gave me all the nostalgic vibes.
Art and how society receives artwork is main topic throughout this story. Wilson did a great job of weaving the importance of art into the story, without you even being aware. I enjoyed that he focused on how art can elicit such a wide range of emotions and how it’s up to the viewer to fully interpret and respond.
Just like most of Wilson’s work, this one is a little offbeat, a tiny bit weird, and a whole lot of quirky. This was a refreshing coming of age story that highlights way our teenage years shape us. It also does a great job of demonstrating how uncertainty and the unknown are the things society tends to react the most to. While I wish the second half of the story had been a bit longer, Wilson’s quirky books always leave me feeling lighter and I can’t recommend his work enough. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5.
Now is Not the Time to Panic, comes out November 8, 2022! Huge thank you to Ecco for my advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion. If you liked this review please let me know either by commenting below or by visiting my instagram @speakingof.books.