How to Be Safe begins with a school shooting.
At first, it seems that that is where the book will go. It will be a plot-driven look at the shooter, the victims, and the events of the shooting. But instead, we follow Anna.
Anna, a teacher at said school, is a teacher who was recently fired. Messily. She was inappropriate in the classroom, then followed up with inappropriate lashing out on social media. After the shooting, Anna is naturally a suspect.
But then, the story turns. Anna is quickly cleared of wrongdoing, but there is still plenty wrong in her life. Fractured flashbacks reveal Anna’s life to be a series of dysfunctions. Her childhood was plagued by bad parents. And she can’t seem to get it together in her adulthood. The fact that she managed to be hired as a teacher in the first place is a bit mystifying.
Meanwhile, the town collectively loses their cool over the school shooting. Mob mentality takes precedence as people find more and more outlandish solutions to the gun problem.
How to Be Safe becomes a character study of Anna and also of the collective fear among the community.
Common sense loses out in the face of red tape, politics, and hysteria.
“Ban everything besides guns. Ban public space. Ban buildings. Ban trigger fingers. Ban anger. Ban flesh and organs and blood loss. Ban women and children who are easy targets and ban men who like to shoot at targets. Ban physics, and ban velocity. Ban human interaction.”
– Tom McAllister, How to Be Safe
How can we be safe? We can’t. As the people in the book try more and more ridiculous methods to ensure their safety, Anna sheds the weights in her life. Instead of over-complicating, she begins to simply. It’s through that simplification that Anna begins her journey back to herself.
It’s an interesting book that I actually had to read twice to fully understand. The first time, I was a bit lost, trying to figure out what exactly the story was. The second time, I appreciated the story of Anna. It became a lot more poignant, her back story. She wasn’t the purely unlivable character anymore.
Instead, she was a person on a bad path who didn’t quite know how to right it.