‘All the Dangerous Things’ by Stacy Willingham is an twisty mystery with an important message about mental health

In “All the Dangerous Things,” author Stacy Willingham addresses many dangerous “things,” but points out that nothing might be as dangerous as people with mental health problems who don’t receive the help and support they need. This carefully wrought mystery keeps us guessing until the end about several deaths in the story. And while we think we know what happened because the main character, Isabelle Drake is the first person narrator, as is the case with many such narratives, we can’t be sure that what she shares is the truth.

We know what Isabelle suspects about the death of her younger sister when she, herself, was just a child. Isabelle has always had a strange relationship with the night. As a child, she would sleepwalk and go places and act as if she were awake. Now, as an adult with a child who mysteriously disappeared one night a year earlier, she has the opposite problem. Isabelle is unable to sleep. She finds herself nodding off at inappropriate times, catnapping really, but the deep sleep that nourishes our body and mind is impossible for her to achieve, even with the help of medication.

As a result of that lack of sleep, Isabelle isn’t functioning normally. She looks awful as she travels to conferences to share her story and hope that someone, somewhere, will help her get answers about her missing child. Her relationship with her husband, Ben, has suffered as a result of Mason’s disappearance, and they are separated. She and her dog prowl the streets at night when she can’t sleep as she thinks about her childhood nightmares and her present devastation.

Isabelle blames herself for everything. If she had been less deeply asleep, she would have heard something the night Mason disappeared. If she hadn’t been a sleepwalker, her sister might still be alive. But there is more going on than Isabelle even knows, and what Willingham does so beautifully is distract us with obvious suspects while she slams us at the end with the unexpected. Honestly, I was proudly smug, sure that I knew how this apparently predictable story was going to end. Needless to say, the ending is not predictable at all, and I am embarrassed that I was so arrogant.

If you enjoy trying to find the twists and turns before they are revealed, then this will be a wonderful challenge. It’s also about something important—mental health. We see Isabelle struggle with her mental acuity as she tries to remain alert in spite of her long-term lack of rest. We see others who also are in need of help but don’t receive it. Even Isabelle shuns the support offered and thinks she can take care of things on her own. What we realize is that we all need support, whether it’s emotional support, mental health support, or just a physical hug. None of us is so valiant and so self-sufficient that we can live isolated and alone.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Minotaur Books, the publisher, for review purposes.