Panic Sharon Draper’s new title – “All it takes is one moment, one bad decision, for everything to change” – is all you’d want a young adult title to be. It starts with a bang: a young male dancer, Justin, walking down the street, being bullied, called gay. He doesn’t react until they start dishing his momma and then he easily lays them out. First chapter: action, breaking stereotypes, realistic. Love it. The book tells the story from multiple points of view of teens at the same highschool. Another plus – a format my teens are really loving right now. The story centers around Diamond, who willingly goes with a guy who seems legit. Who is not the stereotype of a bad guy, but who is: he holds her hostage, drugs her, rapes her, films her and puts it on the internet. There are no graphic details here, just enough to make the point. Perfect YA. (Overt lesson/message of the book: don’t be seduced and go with strangers no matter how legit they seem). Then there is Justin, who loves Layla, and Layla, who is in love with and going out with Donovan, who is controlling and abusive. Layla’s dad’s in prison and her mom is working two jobs to pay for her to go to dance school.
What more could a teacher or librarian ask for? It’s a great book with a message, with teens exploring tough and real topics. The kids’ race is not specified, so it’s universal. Who would ask for anything more? Well, here’s where I come in: me.
Will my kids read it? Probably not. I have two galleys and they are sitting on the shelf. The cover is a pale blue with a pinned butterfly. Is it the cover that won’t draw them in? Is it not realistic enough for them? While they go “willingly” with lots of guys – attracted, like Diamond is, to fantasies and bling – they are groomed more by an entire world view that makes the entire thing normal. Many don’t have parents who would call or talk to the police about them being missing, like Diamond does, and even if they did the police might not respond. There are no school counselors (if they actually went to school) or neighborhood vigils as there is in the book. The Donovan/Layla story is all to familiar and all too tame for them. While Diamond gets the message fairly quickly that this guy is a creep, most of my girls are still brainwashed into believing “their” guy loves them. They are deep into the thick of people exploiting them, taking advantage of them, deep into dangerous situations. Those are tough books to write. Coe Booth, Alison Van Diepen and Alan Lawrence Sitomar do it best as a general rule.
Of course a few will read the book – I’m thinking mainly my middle schoolers. While it’s not a middle schooler book “on the outs” I think it will work for them in here.
And, Sharon Draper is coming to visit my girls. That’s probably what it’s going to take for interest and excitement to generate. I think they’ll pick it up after the visit. I’ll let you know.
Draper, Sharon M. Panic. Antheneum Books/Simon & Schuster. April 2013. $16.99. 978144240896 Chapter one finds 16 year old dancer Justin harassed by two bullies – calling him a faggot, taunting him. When they finally start dissing his mother, he punches one of them, knocking him to the ground. Multiple perspectives tell the story of the students at Crystal Pointe Dance Academy, focusing on Diamond and Layla. Layla’s dad is in prison and her mom is working two jobs, going out with a different guy every night. Layla’s mom isn’t really there for her, except she works hard to be able to pay for Layla’s dance lessons. Layla is going out with Donovan, who has a great car and picks her up after school everyday, but is jealous and insecure, hurting Layla in his anger. Layla is confused. She understands his jealousy and vows to do better. Meanwhile, she’s clueless that Justin is a great guy and really likes her a lot. Diamond, in a believable scene, leaves the mall with a guy who promises her a lot and seems legit, only to find herself held hostage, given drugs, raped and filmed over a period of 6 days and nights. While there are teens that are going to enjoy this book, and there is lots to think about in terms of subtle and explicit forms of abuse, it’s overall a tame book. Those living more gritty lives may get bored, but would work for street-wise middle school students.