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‘Now Is Not the Time to Panic’ shows Kevin Wilson at his quirky, nostalgic best

Kevin Wilson is the author of "Now is Not the Time to Panic"
Leigh Anne Couch
Kevin Wilson is the author of "Now is Not the Time to Panic"

Author Kevin Wilson is the King of Quirk. He won me over with his previous novel, “Nothing to See Here,” which featured bizarre, slightly fantastical characters and a story full of heart and humanity.

His newest work, “Now Is Not the Time to Panic,” is every bit as warm and witty. And it may be his best yet.

The story centers on Frankie and Zeke, two teenagers spending the summer of 1996 in Coalfield, Tenn. Frankie lives with her divorced mom and triplet brothers. She meets Zeke at a public pool, where he bravely competes in a greased watermelon contest that leaves him with a bloody mouth and her wanting to know more about this new kid from Memphis.

The two become friends and look for ways to assuage their summer boredom. Both teens consider themselves artists — she’s a writer, and he’s an illustrator — so they create a poster with wording Frankie brainstorms on the spot: “The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.” What does it mean? Nothing — and everything.

They plaster the town with their anonymous manifesto. What happens next is part adventure, part hysteria, as the creation takes on a life of its own, and Frankie and Zeke scramble to deal with the repercussions.

“Now Is Not the Time to Panic” is a coming-of-age story, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a charming look back at the cell-phone-free, seemingly innocent ’90s, as it explores youth, friendship, the power of art and the weight of secrets. Wilson’s trademark humor shines through, and the ending is powerful and poignant.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.