Ewan Morrison’s newest novel writes the COVID-19 pandemic as a moment in history, and a precursor to something much bigger and much worse. At least, that’s what Haley’s Dad believes. This time – he predicts – after the trauma of the 2020 pandemic, relentless testing of possible future viruses means that the next one comes out of a lab. In How To Survive Everything (Saraband Books), Haley struggles to navigate the unthinkable while wondering how on Earth she’ll decide which divorced parent to side with now – whether it’s over whose breakfast is best or a choice between life and death.
When Ed kidnaps his children, Haley and her younger brother Ben to bring them to his mega-sustainable, ultra-secure shelter in Scotland, he’s set for them to ride out the oncoming pandemic in safety. But, as Haley realises her survivalist dad has a history of poor mental health which has involved an obsessive end-of-the-world paranoia, she begins to wonder if this is all his delusion. Her mother, Justine, comes to the rescue (unsuccessfully) and ends up locked down with Ed’s small survival community and the kids, unable to escape. This means that Haley has to figure out how to confirm whether there is a world-ending pandemic beyond their borders or if her father is taking his paranoia to extremes. In so doing, she is constantly, painfully torn between her parents’ skirmishes and opposing views to an unbearable degree.
Morrison’s ability to write this dysfunctional, broken family to life and animate Haley’s every-teenage-child’s-worst-nightmare position is gripping, keeping the thrill of his novel rooted in addictive family drama. Haley’s ongoing narrative is part-survival guide in an engaging narrative choice that keeps the pace and mystery at optimum levels. Ed’s serious mental health issues collide with his explanations of the pandemic with flawless logic that leave the reader in constant ambiguity as to whether the pandemic is real, almost wishing that it is. For Haley and the reader, both of her parents’ sides of the story are intensely believable.
The book is grisly and unwavering with masterful writing and tension building. The absurdity of Haley’s situation comes through her snarky narrative as she balances the struggles of being a normal teenage girl alongside her other problems. This isn’t just a survival guide. It’s how to survive the relationships that harm you. It’s how to survive family at the worst of times. It’s how to survive everything and do it with a glimmer of hope.
By Rory McNeill