Do Not Become Alarmed

Here is a case when the title of the book is the exact opposite of what you should do. (Insert grimace emoticon, insert laugh-crying emoticon).

Do Not Become Alarmed: or do, really, because your children are missing in a country in Central America and you have no idea if they are alive or dead and one of the children has diabetes so they are most definitely in trouble.

Maile Meloy’s novel is nail biting. Disclaimer: I chew my nails over nearly every book as I am a nail chewer.

Liv and Nora, cousins and best friends, decide to pack up their families and go for a cruise over the Christmas holidays. The trip is amazing; the kids are getting along, it’s relaxing and everyone is having a great time. They decide to go ashore in a country in Central America and try out ziplining (for the women) and golf (for the men). And at some point while playing in a river, Liv and Nora’s children, as well as the slightly older children of another couple, go missing into the jungle. There are crocodiles. There are worse things.

What struck me is how easily we fall over the knife’s edge. How safe we feel when we shouldn’t, and how a misstep that seems innocuous can become entirely dangerous. It’s like riding a new bike on a beautiful day and being hit by a car blowing a stop sign. The panic the children’s parents experienced is tinged with how ‘did this even happen?’ But of course it could have happened. The adults never presumed the actual dangers and instead saw dangers where there were none.

This novel shares an unstated observation with Stranger Things (again, nail biting). The children adapt, they survive, they fight back, they are less afraid. They are resilient. They do what is necessary. The adults unspool, in-fight, cry, freak out and fall apart. Is it because children’t don’t appreciate the danger they are in? Or is it because they know they can overcome it?

Maile Meloy was at Events 39 (Potions, Ghosts and UFOs), 71 (Plentiful Portraits) and 84 (Getting a Grip) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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