This is Not a Drill

this-is-not-a-drillTwo teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD.  (Penguin, Oct. 25, 2012)

2013 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers

When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them--a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he's denied access to his son because of a custody battle.

The children's fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake's alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war. 


"McDowell balances the gunman's plight against his son's shame, fear, and divided loyalties. Written in a format that will appeal to reluctant readers, this first novel is an excellent choice for sparking classroom discussion." (Gr 7 Up) School Library Journal

“ . . .the setup is irresistible, and McDowell’s authentic handling of the confusion and fright of the class of first-graders lends the story a constant undertone of tension.” Booklist

" . . . with authentic and distinct narrative voices and a talent for unspooling suspense, McDowell establishes herself as a writer to watch." Publisher's Weekly

"Fast-paced, suspenseful thriller...The hours-long standoff comes to a dramatic and violent climax... A vividly depicted and gripping tragedy."  Kirkus Reviews 

"The dialogue is authentic, the characters well portrayed, the flashbacks fascinating and the plot thrilling. Great for reluctant readers and non-stop readers alike." The National Examiner

"This Is Not a Drill grabs you at the very start. This is a well-imagined and tragic story with surprising characters and an unforgettable climax. It's hard to believe this was written by a first-time novelist." - Todd Strasser , author of Give a Boy a Gun


See Beck's Goodreads page for reviews.

Last Bus Out

last-bus-out-paperbackThe true story of Courtney Miles, who stole a school bus and drove over 300 New Orleans people to safety after Hurricane Katrina.

Sick with worry over his missing grandmother, Courtney charged past a police roadblock and was nearly arrested by a National Guardsman. He'd vowed never to suffer the fate of his mother, who was repeatedly jailed for selling drugs.

At seven he woke up with a gun in his face on Christmas Eve. At thirteen he witnessed the murder of a man three feet away from him. As a high school junior he lived alone in an empty house without electricity or water. Courted by gangs who knew he was hungry, “Streets,” as he was nicknamed for his solitary life on the streets, lived apart and kept his record clean – until the day he risked his freedom to save his neighbors.

For more info visit


"McDowell is a gifted writer who puts the reader right in the middle of the action with Courtney, pulling your heartstrings one minute, then terrifying you the next. It's one of those rare books that provides amazing firsthand details of a history-making tragedy and the uplifting way some people chose to respond to it. McDowell documents the difficult background Courtney comes from, making the reader admire his selfless actions all the more." - R.A.Nelson, author of Teach Me, Breathe My Name, Days of Little Texas, Throat