HOW TO BE SAFE by Tom McAllister
Kirkus Star


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A brilliant, tragically timely second novel from the author of The Young Widower’s Handbook (2017).

FORMER TEACHER HAD MOTIVE. When this chyron rolls across the bottom of a cable news segment, Anna Crawford becomes complicit in a high school shooting. Never mind that she had nothing to do with the crime; once she’s part of the story, she’s guilty of...something. This novel is an indictment of gun culture, hot-take journalism, and social media, and if that sounds like a miserable premise for a novel, fear not: McAllister is a brave and stylish writer, and Anna is a singular creation. At first, she seems like a classic unreliable narrator, but it quickly becomes hard to decide which is crazier: Anna or the world she’s describing. As a one-time teacher and a thoroughgoing misfit—she was fired for being “unpredictable” just before the shooting—Anna is perfectly positioned to understand the shooter even as she recognizes that both his teen angst and his deadly rage are hackneyed. Once she achieves secondhand fame, she notes that the strangers who want to kill her, those who want to rape her, and those who want to do both—in that order—share the same fantasies of dominance. “In America,” she says, “we send children to school to get shot and to learn algebra and physics and history and biology and literature. Less civilized nations don’t have such an organized system for murdering their children. Mass murders in undeveloped countries occur because they are savages.” Anna doesn’t just worry about guns; she sees how misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and classism shape a society in which assault weapons are fetish objects. The horror is offset—or maybe thrown into sharp relief—by moments of mordant humor. When an evangelizing acquaintance tries to frighten Anna with images of darkness and demons and a final battle between good and evil, Anna says, “You might want to make this sound less exciting…I kind of want to not repent just so I can see the whole scene.” Then she adds, “People don’t want to be bored.”

Intensely smart. Sharply written.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63149-413-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Liveright/Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018


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