Many of the books I’ve been reading lately have focused on characters and their relationships with those around them. I love books like this, especially when they’re narrated by the main character, because you really get inside their head and find out what they’re thinking and feeling. In Beck McDowell’s new book This is Not a Drill you get inside the heads of two teenagers who find themselves caught up in a hostage situation in an elementary school in America.
The door swings open and a man walks in like he owns the place. He raises his fist. Gripping a handgun. Aimed directly at the teacher.
Emery finds it awkward as hell tutoring a bunch of grade-one kids with her ex-boyfriend. It’s not easy for Jake either – he knows Emery thinks he’s useless, especially after what he did to her. But when a boy’s father turns up at school with a gun, a bad situation for Emery and Jake suddenly turns deadly. The boy’s father – a soldier home from Iraq – says he just wants to spend time with his kid. But resistance from the teacher has deadly consequences. The man isn’t afraid of opening fire, even in front of the children. And one way or another, he’s not leaving without his son.
This is Not a Drill is a tense, gripping story, set over the course of a few hours. Beck McDowell hooks you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until the very last word, breathless and with your heart pounding. Like the characters, you feel on edge and you turn the pages quickly, but quietly, for fear that the man with the gun might hear you and all hell will break loose. Beck packs so much into the 215 pages of this gripping story, from the affects of war on returning soldiers and their families, to the different ways that children react in traumatic situations.
Although the story is based around the event that is taking place, it’s really a story about relationships. The relationships between the Mr Stutts (the man with the gun) and his family are central to the story, and the relationships between the other characters in the story affect the direction that the story could take. The teacher, Mrs. Campbell has a great relationship with her students. She stays calm for her them and helps keep them calm by distracting them. The relationship of the two narrators is quite tense because something has happened between them, but they quickly have to put this behind them so that they can help protect the children.
The story is incredibly tense, but the children help to relieve that tension. Even though they are being help captive by a man with a gun they still worry about the little things, like eating and going to the bathroom. There is a particularly touching moment when the children decide to sing Edelweiss.
4 out of 5 stars
This is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell is out in Australia and NZ now so grab a copy from your library or bookshop. Beck McDowell is joining me on Thursday for a Q & A about This is Not a Drill and how her experiences as a teacher have helped with her writing.
Win a copy of This is Not a Drill!
Thanks to the wonderful people at Hardie Grant Egmont I have a copy of This is Not a Drill to give away. All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below. Competition closes Monday 19 November (Australia and NZ only).