From the statistics I've just retrieved, it appears that every day in America a dozen children on average are abducted by strangers. The most vulnerable segment consists of teenage girls.

PANIC is a story that begins quite upbeat, but then the ugliness of the world intrudes upon the young characters' happiness. Told from multiple points of view, this is a music-filled tale of an ensemble cast of teens who are devoted to dancing and to Miss Ginger, their teacher at the Crystal Pointe Dance Academy, where they all spend their time after school enthusiastically practicing their routines.

"He'd started as a B-boy dancer, popping and rocking for fun in his living room, showing off for his parents as he spun on his head or balanced on his arms. But at the studio he'd discovered jazz dance styles, modern, and even ballet. He was amazed how easily each form had come to him. It was like sampling new flavors of candy -- each bubbling to its own soundtrack."

Justin Braddock, one of the real good guys here, is the story's central male character, being the only high school boy dancer among the high school girl dancers at Crystal Pointe. He quietly adores talented fellow dancer Layla Ridgewood, who is currently being physically and mentally abused by her boyfriend Donovan, a two-timing thug with an Escalade who -- many years ago -- had been Justin's best childhood friend. These days, the two young men have absolutely no use for one another.

Meanwhile, disappointed over having Miss Ginger choose Layla for the starring role of Wendy in the troupe's upcoming dance performance of Peter Pan, Diamond Landers impulsively buys into the "I'll make you a star" line laid on her by a good-looking, middle aged guy she encounters at the food court, who then proceeds to take her to his place outside of town, drugs her, locks her up, and gives her a starring role in the low budget, high profit movies he makes nightly.

On her way out of the mall with him, she sends a hastily written text to Mercedes -- the friend and fellow dancer with whom she'd arrived there -- and that's the only clue anyone has regarding Diamond's disappearance.

"As she picked at the striped upholstery of the chair, she couldn't stop thinking of her parents. Her sister. Were they looking for her? Did they think she'd run away? They'd come looking for her, right? With a pang, she realized no one had any inkling of where to start a search. Like a bubble, Diamond had simply vanished. "She started to cry, softly, emptily, dreading the coming night."

Sharon M. Draper's PANIC is an outstanding book for those young teens that are on their way into high school: There are no four-letter words here. There are no descriptive sex scenes. And while there will be long-felt consequences for the girls' mistakes, everyone comes out alive, with the bad guys ending up in custody. This is high-interest contemporary fiction -- a book that many readers will gulp down in one evening.

It is a story that addresses important issues (like never getting into cars with strangers, and never letting your high school boyfriend take photos of you that you wouldn't want your parents to see). Thus, it is a book that could quite likely save lives and reputations. Some astute readers will recognize how these issues all relate to the objectification of women in our culture. And it is for these reasons that PANIC will be an important addition to middle school and high school collections. With a little luck, there will be lots of young adolescents who read it and learn the consequences of risky behaviors -- without having to learn them the hard way.  272 pages  Ages  13 and up


Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA

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