Art can lead to unintended consequences, as two teenagers discover in the witty Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson (Nothing to See Here; Baby, You're Gonna Be Mine; The Family Fang). In 1996, bored Frankie Budge, a native of Coalfield, Tenn., who spends her time working on a "weird girl detective novel," meets aspiring artist Zeke, a wealthy Memphis teen, at the town pool. Frankie and Zeke create a poster featuring Zeke's edgy art and the phrase "The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers, we are the new fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us." Using a copier Frankie's triplet brothers stole from the high school, they reproduce and display it all over town. The poster creates a national frenzy, the media asking if it's the work of the devil. No one knows who made it, but in 2017, a New Yorker art critic, certain that it was Frankie, who is now an author of novels for young readers, tracks her down for a story that will reveal the secret Frankie longs to keep.
Wilson presents a layered work that incorporates many themes into its deceptively simple story, including the ways in which works of art can be easily misinterpreted and the hysteria that sometimes passes for news reporting. "If you love something," Frankie's mom tells her, "you can't think too much about what went into making it or the circumstances around it." As this novel illuminates, art can be transformative--but who and what it transforms are unpredictable. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer