Don’t Be Afraid

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Hayward's darkly comic novel of adolescent anxiety reveals an unforgettable family caught in a state of mourning.

Meet Jim Morrison--not the lead singer of the Doors who died a rock 'n' roll death in 1971, but a chubby seventeen-year-old living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who was born days after the singer's death. Jim, or Jimmy, as most people call him, has been living a largely invisible life, overshadowed by his older brother, Mike, popular and charismatic, and his father, Fort, a stern and unyielding engineer. Jimmy spends his time avoiding gym, transforming his uneventful days into scenes from his favourite movies and occasionally going on banana diets (special banana carrier required).

But everything changes the night the library explodes, with pieces of books and catalogue cards falling like snow from the dark sky. Jimmy is first on the scene with his father and it's soon clear that Mike had been in the library when it exploded, possibly meeting a girlfriend after hours. Mike's death upends the Morrisons' suburban life and any sense of normalcy is destroyed. Their mother, Filomena, is nearly catatonic with shock, and Jimmy must become his much younger brother's nanny, taking him to preschool every day and uncomfortably hanging out with a gang of mothers, watching them breastfeed and talking about peanut allergies.

Life gets even more surreal. The cause of the library explosion remains mysterious, and Jimmy tries to help his father unofficially gather evidence at the site. Add to this his duties surrounding his mother's idea to have a birthday party for his dead brother, and Jimmy finds himself busier and, bizarrely, happier than he's ever been.

With generous humour and characteristic energy, Steven Hayward weaves a story of the undercurrents of family life and the unpredictable ways our paths can unfold.

From the Hardcover edition.


My full name is James Fortitude Morrison, but nobody calls me that. Instead, I’m Jimmy or Jim. And so this is what I tell people: “I’m Jim Morrison of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.” It’s a sort of joke, like saying I’m no one at...
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A Globe and Mail Best Book

“Heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure, . . . Don’t Be Afraid is a note-perfect account of life and loss. . . . [Hayward] deftly unleashes his inner Vonnegut.”
— John Barber, The Globe and Mail
“Hayward has an easy way with his prose and the dialogue. . . . Portrayed with realism and sympathy. . . . If you’re a fan of . . . Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness or Reif Larsen’s The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, you’ll likely enjoy this book.”
Toronto Star

“A beautiful meditation on loss, grief and the stubborn resilience of families.”
— Nino Ricci, author of The Origin of Species
Don’t Be Afraid is an extraordinary novel, utterly compelling from the first page to the last. Portraying lovable characters in varying degrees of crisis, the novel is tender, wise and hilariously funny. Hayward is the fine and rare writer—like Richler in Solomon Gursky or Barney’s Version—who makes us laugh all the while illuminating with compassion and candour the truths of the human heart.”
— Timothy Taylor, author of Stanley Park
Don’t Be Afraid broke my heart in the very best way. That is, the funny/sad way. Indeed, Steven Hayward may just be the best funny/sad writer we have. Go on. Let him break your heart.”
— Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle

“A hilarious and quietly subversive tour of post-industrial American suburban life. The fictional Jim Morrison in Don’t Be Afraid is more interesting than the real Jim Morrison ever was.”
— Stephen Marche, author of Raymond and Hannah

Don’t Be Afraid is an acutely smart and sensitive portrayal of a youth who is forced to confront the inexplicable death of a family member. Steven Hayward is an outstanding writer with a special talent for exploring the big existential questions through comic virtuosity and the artful rendering of voice.”
— David Chariandy, author of Soucouyant

From the Hardcover edition.