By the early 1970s, the comforting idealism of the ’60s was already morphing into terrifying reality, bombarding a generation of young people with visually convincing scenarios of catastrophe and mayhem. “On every movie screen,” Heather Havrilesky wryly bemoans in the introduction to Disaster Preparedness, “airplanes plummeted to the ground, earthquakes toppled huge cities, and monster sharks ripped teenagers to bloody bits.” The world was obviously a precarious place and conventional methods of self-preservation offered no succor. People who “exited calmly with the crowd . . . were always the ones to perish first. Only a small band of survivors willing to plot out their own escape route and battle their way through untold mishaps had any hope of making it out alive.”

So plot she did. Armed with a dark sense of humor, a toughness nurtured by parents unwilling to feed her fairy tales or “comforting myths” and a stoicism stemming from the seeming indifference of a God disinclined to provide the simplest sign of celestial reassurance, Havrilesky formulated her own plans for any emergency, from nuclear war to the taunting of her preteen peers. Droll, insightful and tenaciously honest, Disaster Preparedness chronicles her roller-coaster journey through the confusion of childhood, the devastation of her parents’ divorce and the angst of a teenager coming of age in the ’80s. “In 1986,” she vividly recalls, “heartbreak drove a canary yellow ’78 Pinto with The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ playing in the tape deck. Heartbreak looked just like Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High . . . and quoted Pee Wee Herman liberally, even when he was breaking up with me.”

At times hilarious, at times achingly sincere, Disaster Preparedness delivers a fun-to-read memoir laced with frank self-reflection as our heroine marches toward adulthood, doggedly traversing life’s mountains—loss, shame, regret—and begins the thorny search for love. Fans familiar with Havrilesky’s pointed humor from her work as a staff writer at and as a commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” will recognize her candid voice and sharp wit, but will also find complexity, depth and tenderness here as she ultimately renders compassionate, loving portraits of her parents, shares her darkest secrets with best-friend intimacy and wrestles gritty optimism from an uncertain world.

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