Don't Say We Didn't Warn You: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : Random House
  • Published : 15 Feb 2022
  • Pages : 320
  • ISBN-10 : 0593243501
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593243503
  • Language : English

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You: A Novel

Two sisters unite to survive a traumatic upbringing-from absentee parents to a wilderness camp for troubled teens-in this "relentless and spooky" (Joy Williams) debut from an essential new voice.

ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022-Good Housekeeping, Autostraddle, The Millions

"When the Juvenile Transportation Services come for you in the night in a preordained kidnapping, complete with an unmarked van and husky guardsmen you can't outmatch, you have been sold for a promise."

A young woman thinks she has escaped her past only to discover that she's been hovering on its edges all along: She and her younger sister bide their time in a dilapidated warehouse in a desolate town north of New York City; their parents settled there with dreams of starting an art commune. But after the girls' father vanishes, all traces of stability disappear for the family, and the girls retreat into strange worlds of their own mythmaking and isolation.

As the sisters both try to survive their increasingly dark and dangerous adolescences, they break apart and reunite repeatedly, orbiting each other like planets. Both endure stints at the Veld Center, a wilderness camp where troubled teenage girls are sent as a last resort, and both emerge more deeply warped by the harsh outdoor survival experiences they must endure and the attempts by staff to break them down psychologically.

With a mesmerizing voice and uncanny storytelling style, this is a remarkable debut about two women who must struggle to understand the bonds that link them and how their traumatic history will shape who they choose to become as adults.

Editorial Reviews

"Maurice Carlos Ruffin was born and raised in New Orleans, so the city's quirks aren't quirks to him. They're just home. But then, Ruffin isn't so much interested in New Orleans as he is in his fellow New Orleanians, which is to say his fellow humans-their frailties, struggles, furies, and heart strains."-Garden & Gun, "Favorite Books of 2021"

"In stories chock full of New Orleanian charm, Maurice Carlos Ruffin navigates the intricacies of a region while commenting on life more generally. This auspicious debut . . . is a spitfire of a collection."-Electric Literature, "Favorite Short Story Collections of 2021"

"What a striking literary arrival! Ariel Delgado Dixon is a prose stylist with a rare talent marked by atmospheric rhythm. This distinct tale of two sisters, crawling with tension, will carve its way into your dreams."-Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina

"Eventful, complex, admirably structured, relentless, and spooky."-Joy Williams, author of Harrow

"The high, subtle tension in Ariel Delgado Dixon's fiction arises from the precision of her language. However wild the situations her characters find themselves in-and they find themselves in some wild ones indeed-her control never falters. She's a master of cold light and moral ambiguity. . . . A new, uncompromising voice."-Camille Bordas, author of How to Behave in a Crowd

"Terrifying and beautiful . . . an incredible debut . . . This evocative story of sisterhood, deception, and danger is written in incisive and brilliant prose. I could not put it down."-Emily Ruskovich, author of Idaho

"A self-assured debut that explores complicated bonds of sisterhood, Don't Say I Didn't Warn You strikes the perfect balance of a story that feels both singular and universal. Dixon is a talented writer with a fresh voice that had me hooked from the first page."-Sara Nović, author of True Biz

"Ariel Delgado Dixon is a writer of preternatural ability, and her first novel is a powerful expression of it. Dixon's work shines a stark light on this new and dangerous strange world in which we find ourselves and does so with such insight, such grace. Dixon is a once-in-a-generation talent."-Brady Udall, author of The Lonely Polygamist

"Consistently and devastatingly intriguing . . . A coming-of-age rife with destruction."-Kirkus Reviews

"Two sisters navigate childhood trauma in Dixon's chilling, complex debut. . . . The layered story lines and Fawn's shocking actions pay big dividends. Readers will be eager to see what the author does next."-Publishers Weekly

Short Excerpt Teaser


My sister always had fixations.

A certain star celebrity, a certain song or food. Anything consumable. She would go at it full tilt for a week or year, however long it took to bleed dry all mystery. She said things that made my mother and I look past her and at each other. Once, driving home from a tearjerker, Fawn mused aloud from the backseat. She couldn't understand why everyone went on and on after someone died. She was staring out the window, holding her thumb up to the moon. Didn't they get tired of acting like they were sad? When were you allowed to forget?

It was 2003, and everyone was obsessed with suspicious packages. When the first human appendage appeared-an elbow, somebody's elbow-I was almost touched. I could hardly believe something so glamorous could happen to us, here in our town.

A postwoman found the limb stuffed inside a duffel bag after nearly running it over on her route. From the raised interstate that cut through Deerie, some culprit had flung away a host of body parts while zooming upstate or down, someone who clearly had no idea there was a rotting hamlet beneath the overpass. The easy off-ramp into town had not yet been built, and the world below appeared as coarse, uninhabited woodland, the scant lights of remaining houses no more than reflections in the window glass. Probably, it seemed like an excellent place for body parts to be tossed, if that was the sort of thing you were trying to do. When the second body part appeared, it came for us. As was her way, Fawn took to it and would not let go.

It began with the dog. He was given to us as a bribe by an ex-boyfriend our mother spurned, and though it was not the first ex to take the tack of wooing her through her children, this bait was extravagant. Fawn claimed him, and I didn't argue. He came with the name Peanut Butter.

Fawn and Peanut Butter went out for a walk together one morning, the dog nosing around the usual detritus swamped under the highway, when he locked on to one duct-taped bundle. Some sixth sense must have made Fawn think twice. She brought it home under her arm, took the parcel into her room, and shut the door behind her. It might have remained her secret to do with as she pleased, but because our mother was in New York, as she often was, I was left in charge. On this authority, I stormed into Fawn's room to complain about one thing or another and found her sitting straight-backed at the end of her bed in deep concentration. Her dresser had been cleared but for her prized puppy figurines, and the bundle had been set there, a desk lamp shining over it like an incubator. It was as if she were waiting for it to hatch.

Naturally, and out of earshot, I called my best friend, Zeke, and told him to come right over. I liked my odds when it was two against one.

While I waited for his arrival, I allowed Fawn to expound on her new mystery item and asked a dozen follow-up questions meant to lull her into a state of compliance. She gazed at the taut sheen of plastic.

"What should we do with it?" she asked. The bundle looked complete, like a small wet boulder. "What could it be? What are you?"

The utility door at the street level heaved open. Zeke always took the stairs up to the loft two at a time in a swift, sneakered bound. Fawn swung around and I held my hands up.

"Just wait," I said. "Okay? Don't get all crazy. Don't-"

Zeke banged at the door, and in the time it took me to flick open the lock, Fawn had wedged a chair under the knob of her door. I could hear her pacing, cursing her error in judgment. She shouted through her barricade that I was a traitor, a liar, that she was going to call our mother.

"Does she have a phone in there?" Zeke asked. He had ridden over on his bike, and the heat had glazed him pink, ears and all.

"You don't have a phone in there," I shouted back to Fawn.

"You can't take it," she said. "It's mine."

"Could be drugs," Zeke said. "Maybe it's a big brick of drugs."

"It is not drugs," I said.

I had anticipated an escalation such as this. For a while, Zeke and I puttered around the kitchen, made snacks with dramatic flourishes, anything to drum up noise and convince Fawn it was safe to emerge. The moment she peeked out, I strong-armed my way in with Zeke on my heels. He snatched the duct-taped bundle from her dresser and tossed it into the air like a baseball to test its heft. It was almost too easy.

Zeke held the package up to Peanut Butter, who had been sequestered in Fawn's room and was now wagging around our feet, grateful for guests. "What do you smell, boy?"

"Don't talk to him," Fawn said. "He doesn't like strangers. He bites."

"Zeke is not a stranger," I said. "Zeke is Zeke."

The dog ...