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Intro, Summary & General Questions

The Story behind Panic by Sharon M. Draper

Several years ago I read an article about two girls, ages 14 and 15, who were abducted from a mall by a man who promised them jobs in the modeling profession. They got into his car voluntarily, thinking probably of being proud of making a sound, adult career decision. It was six months before they were able to escape their captor. Teen abductions in this country often are not reported because it is assumed that the teen simply ran away. Look at any missing teen website and you'll see the faces of young people who are yearning to be found.

And although most of us think of Peter Pan as a delightful children's tale, it is really a harsh story of someone who sneaks into a bedroom at night and steals three children! It's an abduction worthy of an Amber Alert. So in Panic, I used Peter Pan as the backdrop as students in a dance academy prepare for a performance of it. Dance and music swirl throughout the novel as colorful decorations. They help the characters express complicated feelings while they work through the demons in their lives. When they dance, they are more than the pieces of their lives-they are whole.

1. In PANIC, you discuss the difficult issues of abusive teen relationships as well as the dancers of lurking pedophiles. Why do you deal with such dark issues?

I try to give a voice to teens who might be afraid to speak up about difficult relationships, and a warning to those who think they are “too smart” to be lured by a slick talking adult whose aim was to take advantage of them. My characters can undergo difficult situations so that my readers might not have to.

2. How would you compare or contrast the relationships of the two girls caught in relationships they felt helpless to escape from?

Although Layla’s situation was of her own choosing, and Diamond’s circumstance was very much against her will, both girls were caught by the strength and manipulation of a more dominant person. Both girls needed to find escapes from their situations through their own personal strengths. Good friends play an important role in their ultimate survival.

3. What lessons do you hope to teach young women about growing up female, and how do you think the characters in the book can help girls make healthy choices about their lives.

Teenaged girls today need strong, positive role models that can show them how to be independent thinkers and confident decision-makers. Diamond is proud and self-confident, which is good, but she made a deadly decision which changed her life forever. Layla also became involved in difficult situations that could have been handled better. The other girls—Mercedes, Jillian, even Zizi, all serve as important backdrops to the lives of the girls in jeopardy. I would hope that a young woman can read the book, discuss the actions of the characters, and reflect on the decision-making in her own life.

4. How does the character of Justin figure in the lives of the rest of the girls in the dance studio. What lessons can young men get from reading the book?

Justin is a picture of strength, positive attitude under stress, and determination. He has enough self confidence to fight for his own dreams, both on the dance floor, and with Layla. He is a role model to the girls he works with, and becomes the beacon of light for the girl he cares about. I would hope that a young man would read the book and reflect on the decision-making in his own life.

5. What is the role of dance and music in the book?

Dance and music swirl throughout the novel as colorful backdrops to the story. Dance helps both Diamond and Layla work through the demons in their lives, and it gives the other characters the strength to continue during days of difficulty. The characters’ love for dance and music helps them express complicated feelings and emotions. When they dance, they are more than the pieces of their lives—they are whole. I strongly encourage young people to find a musical or creative outlet, for creativity is what helps us see the beauty in life.

6. What is the significance of the role of Miss Ginger in the novel?

Teachers are often the only people a teenager can talk to or confide in. They provide support, encouragement, guidance, and sometimes just plain common sense. Miss Ginger, since she is not an academic teacher at school, is available to her students on a different level and therefore is even more important in their lives. She offers music, dance, escape from the problems of life, and a strong shoulder to depend on.

7. What was the inspiration for this story? Why do you use quotes from Peter Pan at the beginning of each chapter?

I remember watching performances of Peter Pan as a child. Although most of us think of it as a delightful children’s tale, it is really a harsh story of someone who sneaks into a bedroom at night and steals three children! It is really an abduction story. As an adult and a parent, I’d be putting out an Amber Alert for those children. My tale of abduction, although very different from the Peter Pan story, has the children’s tale of Peter Pan as the backdrop as the students in the dance academy prepare for a performance of it.

8. Describe your writing process.

Writing for me is a very fluid process--I sit down a wait for the words to come. They usually do—in buckets and waves. It's amazing. I look upon it as a blessing because the words come so easily. I start with an idea, or a problem or a conflict, or even a situation that might be pertinent to the lives of young people, then the characters grow from that point. I try to make strong characters that change and develop and learn from their mistakes. I try to make characters so real that young people believe they are real people, and many do. I get letters from kids who ask for Rhonda's home phone number, or who are angry at me because of something that happened to one of the characters. I think the layering comes in the story development. The plot is born from the idea, then is crafted by the characters and how they respond to what happens to them. It's a thrilling, exciting process.

9. How does PANIC fit into the kind of books your readers seem to love? Why do you write this genre of young adult fiction? Will there be more books about Diamond and Justin and their friends?

I seem to be able to capture the mind and heart of the adolescent. Young people write me all the time and tell me how much they identify with the characters and plots in my novels. And yes, more books about Diamond and the young people at the dance academy can be expected.

10. Describe your purpose for writing.

I try to write powerful, meaningful stories for young people and show them I understand the difficulties of growing up, and to let them know I care. When a young person reads my books, I want them to say, "Wow! That was great!" I want them to remember them, to cherish them, to pass them along to their friends. Amazingly, that is what happens many times. Kids who have never read a book all the way through before tell me that they read my book in one night, and do I have any more books they can read. That's a wonderful feeling.

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Reviews & Awards

Richie's Picks: PANIC by Sharon M. Draper, Atheneum, April 2013, 272p., ISBN: 978-1-4424-0896-8
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.

Richie Partington, MLIS. Richie's Picks

Panic. Draper, Sharon M. (Author)
Mar 2013. 272 p. Atheneum, hardcover, $16.99. (9781442408968).

After teenage Diamond makes a disastrously foolish mistake, she is abducted and finds herself in terrible danger. Will she survive? Will her life ever be the same?

Told from multiple points of view, Panic is not only Diamond's story but also that of three of her friends, all of them students at the Crystal Pointe Dance Academy. Mercedes is Diamond's best friend, who, wracked by guilt, blames herself for her friend's abduction. Layla, given to bouts of self-loathing, is trapped in a physically abusive relationship with a boy whom she thinks she loves. And Justin, the only boy in the dance class, is secretly in love with Layla.

Although much of her material will be familiar to YA readers, Draper does a good job of balancing and integrating her multiple plotlines. Especially good are the subtle parallels she draws between Diamond and Layla, both of whom are, in their respective ways, trapped and victims of the worst aspects of the Internet.

Draper's many fans will welcome this latest addition to her growing body of work.

- Michael Cart

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Study Guides

Discussion Topics

  1. Panic begins with a confrontation between Justin, a dancer, and some local bullies. How does this help capture the reader's attention? Discuss the impact of bullies in schools. What is your opinion of how Justin handles the bullies?

  2. What predictions can the reader make about Justin and his role as a dancer and a teenager? Compare those predictions to what really happens at the end of the novel.

  3. Describe the dance academy and the role it seems to play in the lives of the students who take lessons there. How is the relationship between a dance teacher and her students different from an academic classroom teacher and his or her students?

  4. Describe Diamond's home life. As you first meet Diamond, how is she like many young people today? How is she different? What seem to be her biggest insecurities? Her greatest strengths? What character traits does she have that will help her through the difficulties to come?

  5. Describe the initial meeting between Diamond and Thane. How believable is it that he is able to convince her to leave with him? Do you think he planned that confrontation? What would you have done in the same situation?

  6. Discuss the reactions of the students to Diamond's disappearance. Which characters stand out and why?

  7. How does Diamond gradually discover the enormity and evil of her situation? What is both ironic and horrible about Thane's explanation of what is to happen?

  8. Describe Donovan--physically, emotionally, and socially. Why do you think a girl like Layla lets him mistreat her? What factors in her life might play a part? How is Donny's behavior another form of bullying?

  9. If available, listen to the music Justin dances to in chapter 11. Visualize his performance as you listen. How do the words match both the movement and the music?

  10. Compare and contrast the Sunday morning of April 14 of Mercedes and of Diamond.

  11. How do extraordinary events affect the lives of ordinary people? Describe how Diamond's disappearance affected her parents and her sister and her friends.

  12. Compare and contrast the relationship of Mercedes and Steve, and the relation of Layla and Donovan. Give specific examples of noticeable differences.

  13. The source of pleasure for most of the characters in the book is dance. Describe how music and dance in the novel help to aid various characters throughout. Why are music and performance easy ways to explain complicated feelings? How can self-expression be used as a tool for helping or healing?

  14. Layla thinks she is in control of the situation when she lets Donny take the pictures. Describe how innocent lapses in judgment led to her problems the next day.
  15. Discuss the power of social media, the internet and instant sharing of information. How can that be both positive and negative?

  16. Compare and contrast the reaction of students at school to Layla's pictures, and Justin's reaction to the pictures and to Layla.

  17. How does Diamond find the strength to survive her ordeal? What does she do to cling to hope? How successful do you think her re-integration into both school and dance classes will be?

  18. Compare and contrast Diamond's abuse and Layla's abuse. How are their situations similar? How are they different?

  19. Explain the title of the novel. Why does the title have more than one possible interpretation? Use specific examples to support your answer.

  20. Partner abuse in high school, bullying, and the criminality of internet sexual abuse are topics that needs to be discussed. Discuss how realistic the lives of Diamond and the others are portrayed, and how they can become voices for young readers.

Activities and Research

  1. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the story for your newspaper.
    • The dance recital
    • The video made by Diamond's parents, pleading for her release
    • The scene where rescue crews arrive for Diamond
    • Classes and activities at the dance academy

  2. Investigate child abductions. Find out statistics as well as solutions.

  3. Investigate bullying in schools. Find out statistics as well as solutions.

  4. Explain how the quotes from Peter Pan fit into the flow of each chapter. OR Read the original Peter Pan and analyze it as a children's story.

  5. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book explaining your feelings about the events in the story. What advice would you give Diamond, or Layla, or Justin, or Mercedes?

  6. Imagine it is three months after the end of the novel. Write a letter or create a conversation between the following characters:
    • Layla to Justin
    • Diamond to Shasta
    • Mercedes to Miss Ginger
    • Zizi to Jillian
    • Thane to his lawyer

  7. In diary form, write the life of Diamond for several months. Include details about how she copes with her bad memories, her lost dreams, and her hope for the future.

  8. Trace the story of one of the following characters. Imagine you are a reporter doing a story on one of their lives. Write everything you know, as well as whatever you can infer about the character in order to write your magazine article.
    • Thane
    • Donovan
    • Miss Ginger
    • Zizi

  9. Listen to the songs used in the novel and tell how each one fit into the themes of the story and the lives of the characters.

  10. Describe the relationship between the friends in the book. Is friendship enough when situations become monumental and overwhelming to young people? Explain.

Writing Activities


    A. "I thought you loved me." He increased the pressure.
    Layla's mind reeled-he was going to kill her if he didn't stop. She could barely speak. "Please. You. Are. Hurting. Me. Stop! Stop!"
    He squeezed even harder. "Then you got some decisions to make."
    She felt dizzy. Her words gurgled. "You. Know. I. Love. You. Please. Let. Go." She could tell she was about to black out.
    He released his hand. Layla slumped in relief against the door, inhaling and exhaling sharply. She rolled down the window, gulping the damp air.

    B. Please, please untie me!" Her head pounded, and her brain felt so fuzzy. She couldn't think. Why was the room spinning?
    Thane laughed again. "You still don't get it, do you? You wanted to be in a movie, and you're just in time for your audition."
    Diamond tried to think straight. Nothing made sense. She felt drugged. "Wha? What? I-I don't understand."
    "No!" she screamed. "Let me go! Please, please, let me go!"

    Write a paper comparing the situations of Layla and Diamond. OR Write about two people you know who faced horrible situations and compare how they dealt with it. Make sure you use specific details to make your paper effective.


    " But as the flickering lights sputtered out in tiny puffs of smoke, Justin felt a cold chill. It was too much like a hundred small deaths happening all at once.."

    Write a descriptive paper that uses sensory imagery. Use vivid verbs and powerful adjectives and adverbs as you write. Use as many of the senses as you can. (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).


    "As they headed for the stairs, Mercedes counted three policemen in the living room and two more in the den. Phones rang. Strange wires had been stretched across the floor. A bulky piece of electronic equipment sat on the dining room table next to a set of telephones. "That stuff is for in case the kidnappers call for ransom-so they can trace the call," Shasta whispered. "How do you know all this?" "I listen at the top of the stairs." Write a narrative paper from the point of view of someone who listened at the top of the stairs, or someone who overheard a conversation. Tell what the person might have learned, the reactions to the information, and the results of that knowledge. Make sure you use specific details to make your paper effective.


    "Exhausted, she sat down and paid close attention to where she was. The room was small, the walls steeply slanted. It made her feel a little dizzy to look at them. A converted attic, she figured. The only window, a small octagon, was tucked at least twenty feet above her head, in the triangle where the two walls met. A chance to escape? Probably not. How would she ever get up there? Thin light, made gray by the rainy weather, filtered through it.

    She paced the room, checking for anything she could use to help her. She tried to remove a picture from the wall, but found it was nailed there. There were no lamps. No decorations. No television. There was nothing she could use as a weapon. Not one thing. She put her ear to the door, but she all she could hear was thick silence. It was as if she were in a tomb..

    Write an expository (explanatory) paper that describes a room in your house, or in your school, or an area in your neighborhood. Use as many specifics as possible.


    "Six years now. He got sent away when I was ten. I should be used to him being gone, but it still sucks."
    "Does dancing help?" Mercedes asked.
    "It totally saved me. It was my dad who found Miss Ginger's when I was in first grade; he's the one who convinced my mom to let me try out the classes. It's like somehow he knew that dancing made me feel real."
    "He used to wait in the parking lot every night until I finished class."
    "I remember! Sometimes you guys would give me a ride home. Didn't he always have a strawberry smoothie waiting in the cup holder for you?"
    "Yep." Layla tried to smile, remembering. "He never missed a pickup. He never missed a show. And then he was gone."

    Write a persuasive paper that argues the point: "Children who have parents who are incarcerated are negatively influenced because of it." OR "Children who have parents who are incarcerated are positively influenced because of it." "Children who have parents who are incarcerated are both positively and negatively influenced because of it." Give specific examples to support your opinions.


    "Another song began. "Just the Way You Are" by Boyce Avenue. It was slower, more sensuous. Breathing hard, Justin extended his hand to Layla. She smiled and reached out her hand to him. They moved together, almost as if they were one person. They twisted and stepped together. He twirled her around, then gently lifted her while the music surged around them. The words to the song were so perfect for Layla-for the two of them, Mercedes thought. "It's so sad to think she don't see what I see/When I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change/'Cause you're amazing, just the way you are . . ."
    Layla landed delicately and spun within the circle of Justin's arms. For a moment, there was only Justin, Layla, and the music that swirled around them."

    Read the passage above and explain how the point of view of the character who makes the observation influences the description. How would Donovan have written this passage?


    "...her pointe shoes barely making a sound as she spun effortlessly with the music.
    The final strains of the music, as bold and strong as Jillian's leaps, echoed in the background. The cheers and applause from the audience resounded. Jillian took her bows gracefully, then trotted off the stage in that awkward walk of girls who would prefer to be on pointe, in the air, above the rest of the world, rather than walking flat-footed on solid ground in heavy-toed pointe shoes.
    Her makeup smeared with sweat, Jillian pushed Zizi and Layla out of her way, headed to the nearest garbage can, and threw up. Jillian always vomited after her performances. As Zizi said, she danced like the devil, then she puked.

    Write a character sketch of a strong powerful person--a friend, a relative, a family member. Use strong verbs and adjectives, as well as sensory imagery.


    "She found energy in thinking about the studio, which always felt comfortable, like a favorite sweatshirt. The smell of popcorn from the microwave in the cafe, the swirling strains of thousands of songs, the glaring reality of the mirrors that covered each wall. Miss Ginger's voice, demanding and gentle at the same time. The sound of fifteen pairs of tap shoes on the wooden floor. Sweat-honest, exhilarating sweat after a great class.
    Diamond opened the door to the Crystal Pointe Dance Academy, walked into the main dance room, and inhaled deeply. It smelled of cocoa and costumes, of perspiration and popcorn, of happiness and hope. Happy smells a lot like leftover sweat, she thought with a smile."

    Write a personal essay that describes a special memory or objector place in your life. Explain why it is meaningful to you. Be sure to include sensory imagery--sights, smells, touches, tastes, sounds.


    Write a poem about one of the following topics, or another topic of your choice:
    • Stupid Decisions
    • Lost and Alone
    • Forever Friends
    • The Joy of Dance
    • Escape
    • Thunderstorms
    • Controlled by Love