Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
There is a blurb by Ann Patchett on the cover of Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, it reads “Smart and thrilling and impossible to put down.” I could not agree more.
Do Not Become Alarmed is a difficult book to write about, as it is a novel that is best read without any knowledge of what is to come. Even though I knew I like Maile Meloy’s writing I was a little uncertain about reading a book that says it is about missing children. Somehow I can read murder mystery after murder mystery without losing sleep over the poor victims. For me murder mystery novels are like opera, simply an entertainment. But, a contemporary literary novel that involves children separated from their parents and at peril kept me awake at night.
The story begins innocently enough with two well to do American families going on a Christmas vacation cruise, Liv and Benjamin, and their two children, Penny, eleven years old, and Sebastian, eight years old. And, Nora and Raymond, and their children, Marcus, also eleven, and June who is six. Liv and Nora are cousins, as close as sisters, and all expect his cruise to simply be a fun family vacation – happy kids, happy parents, all is good.
There are few children on the cruise, a trip from the United States with stops in Central America, Mexico and through the Panama Canal, but there is an Argentinian family, Gunther and Camila, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Isabel, and their son, sixteen year old, Hector.
By the time they reach Central America, after a few days of chilling out on the ship they are all ready for an expedition on shore. The men head off golfing and the women and children take a trip expected to involve a zip line. A problem with the car belonging to the tour guide means they end up at a beach for the afternoon – and things then go terribly wrong.
In tandem to the story of the three families is another, secondary story line. It is that of a young child, Noemi, from Ecuador who is being taken by her uncle to join her parents in New York. For Noemi it is a dangerous journey, for this child who has none of the privileges of the other children.
Once the children have gone missing from their parents the story alternates between what is happening to the children, and what the parents are experiencing. You can imagine their shock, their concern, their panic, and all of the “what if” scenarios. Relationships are at risk, yet they need each other more than ever.
And, this of course is the modern world – Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Google all play a part in the search and in the publicity that surrounds the situation. Even in Central America, in a country rife with the corruption of the drug trade, how can six children disappear? And these are not stupid children. One is medically fragile, but they are children with resources, they know they are in danger, and they know they need to contact their parents and attempt to escape.
From the very first words I was captivated by this novel, this writer. After the first few chapters I was absolutely committed, but did wonder if I could recommend this book to anyone with children – or if it would just be too tough to read. And, it is tough, but it is so good! It questions our assumptions about life, about marriage, parenthood, commitment, and how little the importance of anything else when compared to the safety of your children. Not only your own children, but other children, many, many of whom live in dangerous places and are at risk of all sorts of terrible experiences.