Riverhead Books, 2017
When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The adults are lulled by the ship’s comfort and ease. The four children—ages six to eleven—love the nonstop buffet and their newfound independence. But when they all go ashore for an adventure in Central America, a series of minor misfortunes and miscalculations leads the families farther from the safety of the ship. One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.
The disintegration of the world the families knew—told from the perspectives of both the adults and the children—is both riveting and revealing. The parents, accustomed to security and control, turn on each other and blame themselves, while the seemingly helpless children discover resources they never knew they possessed.
Do Not Become Alarmed is a story about the protective force of innocence and the limits of parental power, and an insightful look at privileged illusions of safety. Celebrated for her spare and moving fiction, Maile Meloy has written a gripping novel about how quickly what we count on can fall away, and the way a crisis shifts our perceptions of what matters most.
Do Not Become Alarmed is supposed to be one of the best books of summer. It was a page turner, but not one of the best books that I have ever read. First of all, I disliked a majority of the characters, both “good” and “bad.” In a stressful situation such as missing children, of course there’s finger-pointing and fighting. It’s unavoidable. But their responses to the situation, additional bad choices, and treatment of one another made me feel less sympathy for them - not more. Second, the reader knew that the adults were one step behind the children, showing up right after the children left. Instead of building suspense, it just gave me a sense of dread and annoyance. Finally, Isabel’s storyline devastated me. It was probably realistic, but I hated reading about it.
The part of the storyline that was most suspenseful was Sebastian’s, as he was diabetic and I did like the children’s characters, in spite of their decision to trust the wrong people. I’m glad that I read Do Not Become Alarmed but I’m even more glad that I didn’t buy it, because I probably won’t read it again. In spite of the relatively happy ending, it definitely left me disappointed.