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Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott

Bomb Shelter

by Mary Laura Philpott

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Quick take

This witty, warm collection highlights a family coming together and growing stronger as they face a son’s epilepsy.

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    Fast read

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  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MamaDrama

    Mama drama


A lifelong worrier, Philpott always kept an eye out for danger, a habit that only intensified when she became a parent. But she looked on the bright side, too, believing that as long as she cared enough, she could keep her loved ones safe.

Then, in the dark of one quiet, pre-dawn morning, she woke abruptly to a terrible sound—and found her teenage son unconscious on the floor. In the aftermath of a crisis that darkened her signature sunny spirit, she wondered: If this happened, what else could happen? And how do any of us keep going when we can’t know for sure what’s coming next?

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Bomb Shelter.
Bomb Shelter


I remember now standing with my face to the horizon in the waist-deep tide of the Gulf of Mexico, making up a dance routine. What’s strange is that this memory was lost under a pile of other moments and more pressing daily calculations for decades; then, a couple of years ago, it floated right up to the surface, as clear as the water in the gulf.

At nine years old, I liked to imagine that I might one day command an audience in some sort of performance—not ballet, I was no good at it, but maybe some kind of pep rally like the big girls at my school were always having, or in a dance contest where most of the dancing was just walking and clapping and doing jazz hands. In the water, I was hard at work on choreography for “Stop! In the Name of Love,” one of the songs my mother had sung along to on the oldies station as we drove down the highway from Tennessee to the Florida panhandle. We were on our annual beach trip with my grandmother, whom we’d picked up in Alabama.

Loud voices broke my concentration.

“Little girl!”

I turned around.

Little girl! ” a man’s voice yelled again, but I couldn’t identify the source of the voice, because gathered on the shore were dozens of people, all bunched up at the water’s edge. Everyone was shouting.

Was a girl in trouble? Was she breaking a rule? Or was everyone cheering for her? Had she done some kind of trick? I looked around the breakers on either side of me, searching for another person about my size, another girl in a stretchy nylon bathing suit with a worn, pilled bottom from sitting in the sand. Another girl with her elbow-length, sun-bleached hair tied up on top of her head in a bun that had been soaked in salt water, then dried, then soaked again, creating a nest of knots that would take an hour of combing to remove. The water had been full of children a second ago. Where were the other kids? Where was that little girl?

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Why I love it

One day in my middle school years, I walked past the bathroom I shared with my little brother and he was shaking in a strange way. I thought it must be a prank so I gave him a light, playful shove. But then he fell into our bathtub and kept shaking. Not long after that my brother would be diagnosed with pediatric epilepsy. He would eventually grow out of his seizures and we can now laugh about that day, but for many years he and my family lived in fear that he might collapse in a fit of shakes and not have someone around to help. So imagine my shock on my first encounter with Mary Laura Philpott’s new essay collection, Bomb Shelter... Here was the experience of my family and millions of others related with startling lucidity but also humor and wisdom.

Like Philpott’s previous collection, this is a roving book possessed of a warm heart and lots of curiosity. Not all of the essays are directly about her son and his epilepsy, but each is animated by that sense of life’s inherent fragility that the illness can often put in sharp relief. Some of the informative and often quite funny topics Philpott covers along this journey include adolescent reading habits, “world turtle theory,” Camp David, and how to spatchcock turkey. There really is something here for every reader.

My personal connection to Bomb Shelter aside, I must also take a moment to shout out its unique and engaging language with all of the hallmarks of its author’s signature style. Philpott has an uncanny eye for the strangeness lurking in everyday life. So go add this book to your box and let yourself be led by one of our most compelling literary guides!

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Member ratings (1,171)

  • Renee W.

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Literally full of truth bombs. I loved the authors voice, her wit and how she described her world. Many times I was shaking my head saying, yes.. exactly… and… me too. I loved it from beginning to end

  • Amanda M.

    Waynesboro, PA

    So so good!! Deep without being cheesy or trying too hard. I can relate to Philpott so much. Thoroughly enjoyed this read! Even if you’re not a parent, you’ll enjoy this if you like thoughtful books.

  • Mariah F.

    Science Hill, KY

    Are you a bit neurotic? This book is for you! Her honesty about her positive and negative experiences as a mother are deeply moving, but also funny. We have to laugh sometimes; a lot of times, really.

  • Angela C.

    Eagle Mountain, UT

    I don't really like memoirs—unless it's an essay collection. Essays feel much more universal and relatable to me, and I like the vignette style of reflecting on life. This collection is excellent.

  • Leslie F.

    Kingwood, TX

    I loved this way more than I expected! Her ability to be witty while writing about hard things was brilliant.Her thoughts and worries were so relatable. This book may end up being one I read again.

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