Cousins Liv and Nora take their families on a holiday cruise instead of spending the Christmas vacation at home. Lulled into a sense of security on the luxurious ocean liner, the families decide to take a day trip into one of the Central American countries when the ship docks. But things go quickly awry, and it isn’t long before the children have gone missing. Lost in a country they don’t know, away from their parents who begin to turn on one another in a game of who’s to blame, the children must tap into resources they didn’t know they even had at their disposal.
One of the things that works so surprisingly well in Meloy’s excellent, taut novel is the way in which she distinguishes between her myriad characters. There are a great many characters in play here, and nearly all of them are given a chapter or two in which they are the narrator. While this could become overwhelming or even collapse the narrative, it doesn’t–Meloy keeps a firm grip on each of these people, and each one is distinctive in memorable ways. The result is an ensemble that propels the narrative while also grounding the reader in a multitude of different lived experiences.
The book is at once a “what-would-you-do?” thriller while also a deceptively deep rumination on life’s coincidences and unlucky moments as they inform a given individual’s character. The plot relies heavily on the concept of “ifs,” for example, if the the children had not swam to shore, if the paper bag with diabetic medicine had not fallen out of a pocket, if the mothers hadn’t fallen asleep on a beach…and the result is a genuinely suspenseful and completely plausible nightmare. This is made stronger by the fact that Meloy knows her characters so well and allows them to be kind of the worst at times.
This harrowing novel from Meloy is a gripping read from start to finish. It’ll be next to impossible for readers to put it down once immersed in the book’s pages. Tightly plotted, beautifully written, and full of vivid, memorable characters–no easy feat as there are over a dozen important people at play–this is a knockout of a suspense novel. Highly recommended.
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy. Riverhead Books: 2017. Library copy.