A novel, released by Liveright Publishing in April 2018

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We Need to Talk about Kevin meets Dept. of Speculation in a novel about one woman’s furious grappling with the repercussions of small-town tragedy.

FORMER TEACHER HAD MOTIVE. Recently suspended for a so-called outburst, high school English teacher Anna Crawford is stewing over the injustice at home when she is shocked to see herself named on television as a suspect in a shooting at the school where she works. Though she is quickly exonerated, and the actual teenage murderer identified, her life is nevertheless held up for relentless scrutiny and judgment as this quiet town descends into media mania. Gun sales skyrocket, victims are transformed into martyrs, and the rules of public mourning are ruthlessly enforced. Anna decides to wholeheartedly reject the culpability she’s somehow been assigned, and the rampant sexism that comes with it, both in person and online. A piercing feminist howl written in trenchant prose, How to Be Safe is a compulsively readable, darkly funny exposé of the hypocrisy that ensues when illusions of peace are shattered.

In a starred reviewKirkus Reviews says: "A brilliant, tragically timely second novel ... 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... Intensely smart. Sharply written." 

In another starred reviewLibrary Journal writes: “This darkly humorous primal scream of a novel takes as its subject the madness of modern American life, with all manner of violence, misogyny, paranoia, and self-righteousness on full, seedy display. . . . A blistering, Swiftian portrait of a nation that has lost its moral center, this book is a compelling from start to finish. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of literary fiction, psychological drama, and dystopian fiction.”

In a starred reviewBooklist writes, "Combining a deep character study, prescient satire, and an unfortunately all-too-timely evisceration of U.S. gun culture, McAllister’s (The Young Widower’s Handbook, 2017) well-voiced and remarkably observed page-turner is in almost all ways an anti-thriller—itself a comment on the current, terrifying mundanity of similar events."

Ron Charles writes in the Washington Post: "Like nothing else I’ve read, 'How to Be Safe' contains within its slim length the rubbed-raw anxieties, the slips of madness, the gallows humor and the inconsolable sorrow of this national pathology that we have nursed to monstrous dimensions."

Lauren Mechling writes, in the New York Times Book Review,“Darkness suffuses Tom McAllister’s heady and unsettling exploration of America’s gun violence epidemic. . . . Yet this is far more than a ripped-from-the-headlines story. McAllister delivers here a portrait of a nation vibrating with failure and humiliation. . . . The writing sears — and reminds us of literature’s power to fill a void that no amount of inhaling the vapors of Twitter will satisfy.”

See all other reviews here


"This is one of those books you don't know if you can read, and then after you don't know how you lived in a world without it. It's chock full of the things that are killing us: mass shootings, misogyny, the internet, media frenzies, tribalism. And it's so wonderful - so furious and so funny and urgent and needed in this mad ugly space we're sharing with each other. I can't believe this book was written by a man - but I'm so happy Tom McAllister wrote it." –Amber Sparks, author of The Unfinished World

"A kaleidoscopic portrait of a Pennsylvania town in the aftermath of a school shooting, HOW TO BE SAFE is a haunting bulletin from the fever dream that is the contemporary United States, a nation on the verge of self-destruction. Former teacher Anna Crawford is very reasonably at her wit's end, and her vision of her hometown is relentlessly dark and relentlessly beautiful, and also, don't shoot me, relentlessly funny. Tom McAllister's searing novel won't make you feel safe, but it will almost certainly make you feel connected to everyone who knows that everything must change." --Katherine Hill, author of The Violet Hour

"HOW TO BE SAFE is a blistering indictment of America's insanity: our devotion to guns, our addiction to masculinity, our obsession with muscling our way toward an exceptionalism built upon our own inflated sense of self. Tom McAllister is an exceptionally talented novelist: funny, biting, and bold. I'd be inclined to call him a satirist if not for the fact that every word in this novel is true." –Wiley Cash, author of The Last Ballad and This Dark Road to Mercy

"This book might not be a traditional instruction guide, but it is a biting evisceration of contemporary American life, offering a sane look at a not-so-sane world. It’s safe to say that How to Be Safe is one of the most inventive, sobering, and hilarious novels I’ve read in years." –Michele Filgate, contributing editor at LitHub

“Vicious, hilarious, shocking and sad, How to Be Safe is biting political satire that levels its targets, soft and hard.  Tom McAllister's vision of a violent, pious, hysterical America is worthy of Denis Johnson, Margaret Atwood and, yes, Mark Twain." - Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen



The book is available for pre-order right now; click any of the links below to order from your preferred retailer. You can also ask your local independent bookstore to order it for you. 


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Liveright Publishing



How to Be Safe: A Novel