Book Review: How To Be Safe by Tom McAllister

Can we be safe, when our world is full of terrible dangers? How To Be Safe by Tom McAllister attempts to answer this question. It is a novel, published in 2018, that follows Anna, a former high school teacher who is accused of at first conducting, then colluding in, a school shooting. After being cleared of these heinous charges, the story revolves around the year after the shooting and Anna attempting to rebuild her life. This task is difficult because the town, Seldom Falls, no longer feels safe for Anna and she has very few people she can rely upon or trust. The few that she does have she tries to push away because of her depression following the shooting and the subsequent legal drama. In the end, Anna finds a way to cope and decides to leave the town and start anew.

This is not an easy novel to read. Yes, it is short, coming it at just 229 pages; however, the subject matter makes this a dark novel. The main issue that McAllister wants to convey is the issue of gun control, which is a very contemporary topic to tackle. He shows us that we can never truly be safe in this world, but more importantly he conveys what that insecurity can do to some people, especially those involved in a horrific tragedy. We see the aftermath of the school shooting not only on Anna, but also how it affects the politics and social dynamics of the town. Religious zealots come out of the woodwork, militias spring up and take control of the town center, and the discussions for a memorial become heated. Anna plays a part in all of this as she searches for some way, any way, to feel again, to let go of the depression and darkness and just feel alive again. She even reconnects with an ex, Robbie, whom she does not love, in order to try and find some semblance of happiness. The metaphor of the sun going out over the town and never reappearing is a great one to describe how the shooting has changed the town: there is a part of everyone, both alive and dead, who is forever changed and cannot be reclaimed. Life has gotten a bit dimmer for all of the citizens of Seldom Falls, and the only way Anna sees the sun again is to escape. 

McAllister's writing style is great. He flashes between Anna's present issues and ties them to issues she has had with family and friends in the past. Anna is a damaged soul before the shooting ever takes place, but it is because of the tragedy and the issues she faces as an accused perpetrator/ accomplice that ties all of the hurts she has felt, past and present, together and causes her to crack. The development of her relationship with Calvin, her brother, is beautiful to read: he goes from a secret brother she resented and hated to the one person she can rely on and trust. And her realization that her romantic relationship may not be the best for her shows her slowly coming out of the darkness and into the light. Anna is a well developed character; unlikable at times, but nonetheless someone you root for in the end. 

This book will not be for everyone; but, if you can stand the hard subject matter, it is well worth the read. 

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐