How sad that the events in Cleveland this week point to the need for a book like Panic by Sharon Draper. In fact Draper, who divides her time between Ohio and Florida, said in a recent interview that Panic was inspired in part by the disappearance of two teenage girls in Ohio who went to buy an ice cream cone from an ice cream truck down the street and did not come home. (They, too, were able to get away from their abductor.)
Draper says we tell our 6-year-olds not to speak to strangers, but rarely do we tell that to our teens. In fact, the three young women who were abducted by Ariel Castro did not know him but got into a car with him. Just like Draper's protagonist, Diamond. Her book reads like a mystery--it's a page-turner--so teens may not realize how much they're learning about human nature in this cautionary tale until they've finished it.
In Panic, a good-looking 40-something man starts talking to Diamond in the Food Court at the mall, as she waits for her friend. He knows a lot about her, says he has a daughter who goes to high school with her, takes a phone call from his daughter in front of Diamond. He says he thought he was supposed to pick up his daughter, but his wife got there first. All attempts to earn her trust.
He tells Diamond, who carries her dance bag with her, that he's holding auditions for a dance part in his film. Diamond's cell phone is nearly out of juice, but she texts her friend to say she's going to an audition and will see her later. Draper paints Diamond as a responsible kid; she gets swept up in the possibility of starring in a film with two of her idols, and pushes aside all common sense.
Adolescence is a tricky time. Teens yearn for independence; they want to try on adult responsibilities. Yet they're on that cusp between childhood and adulthood. They don't yet have the experience to judge whom they can trust and whom they cannot. Diamond trusted the wrong guy.
A subplot in Panic follows Layla, the lead dancer, and Donovan, a big money, big car–driving fellow who's jealous of any time Layla spends away from him. Draper connects between these two men the need for complete control of women. How much is Layla willing to give up to stay with Donovan? It's a slightly different dilemma, yet it's not entirely. How much do you put the trust in someone else at the expense of your own intuition, your own dreams?
Panic is a true conversation starter, a way into some tricky topics, and a good way to explore the fact that there are some people who simply have evil intentions, and we have to be wary. By the end of Draper's book, both Diamond and Layla have realized that part of becoming an adult is taking responsibility for their own welfare. No one can do it for them.