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Do Not Become Alarmed

Review

Do Not Become Alarmed

DO NOT BECOME ALARMED begins on a cruise ship and focuses primarily on two families. How, then, could this book be a thriller? Oh, there are all sorts of ways, as author Maile Meloy demonstrates on this surprising little foray into the third world in which the characters --- or at least some of them --- jump from frying pan to pot to frying pan with the same aplomb that Little Eva navigated the ice floes in UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. Are you ready for it?

When I read and review a novel, I like to take notes that include how I might pitch the book to an editor or a movie producer. For DO NOT BECOME ALARMED, I wrote, “Deliverance mashup with Lord of the Flies. That’s not quite accurate, but it’s generally true. It’s a fish-out-of-water book (a term that’s sadly ironic in the story’s context) that contains enough plausible parts to make me wonder if Meloy combined a number of real-world vignettes to create this tale that will have you reading all night long to find out what does and does not happen on a vacation that two cousins, their husbands and their children take and ultimately wish they had not.

"You won’t want to take a cruise after reading DO NOT BECOME ALARMED.... Enjoy this scary trip vicariously."

The cousins are Liv and Nora, best friends for life who corralled their husbands and children in what is supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime. Liv, who puts together movie deals, is married to Benjamin, one of those nerdy and, yes, indispensable architect-engineer types. They have two children: Sebastian, who is eight (and possesses one of the ticking clocks that propel the book) and the somewhat precocious and occasionally irritating Penny, who is 11. Nora is married to Raymond, an actor who she met through Liv. They also have two children, Marcus and June.

All is well --- they even make friends with another family from Argentina --- until they go ashore in what is obviously Costa Rica for separate excursions in which the men go golfing while the women and children go ziplining. The ladies and kids, however, quickly run afoul of the local infrastructure with the result that they not only don’t get to go screaming down a hillside but also get separated while one mom is sleeping and the other... But that would be telling. The point is that the children find themselves lost in the Costa Rican jungle until they are found, at which point it would have been better if they had stayed lost. They’re not in a good place, and they’ve seen something they weren’t supposed to see.

Meanwhile, their parents are frantic. The blame game starts. The local U.S. embassy is somewhat limited in what it can do. There are issues...but that would be telling, too. Not everything or everyone from the beginning of the story makes it to the end. Meloy ratchets up the suspense until you’ll beg her to tell you what happens. She does, at the end of the book. Don’t skip ahead. You’ll be sorry if you do.

You won’t want to take a cruise after reading DO NOT BECOME ALARMED. If you do somehow get cajoled/forced/persuaded to set foot on one of those floating germ castles and watch terra firma fade out of sight, you surely won’t want to leave the civilized confines of your ship when it lands at ports of call for what the brochures so enticingly describe as “shore excursions,” among other things. In addition, you may find yourself having second thoughts about leaving the country in general, or even your state, or, yes indeed, your neighborhood. There is also the chance that you will have to mightily resist the urge to forever forbid your children from leaving your sight, if you are not at that point already. Enjoy this scary trip vicariously.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 9, 2017

Do Not Become Alarmed
by Maile Meloy

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0735216525
  • ISBN-13: 9780735216525