If there is one must-read book this summer, this is it.

By Liz Steelman
Updated August 10, 2017
Two cousins take their families on a cruise around Central America at Christmas to escape the stress of their real lives. Once docked, the women and children leave the ship for a zip-lining excursion, and the unthinkable happens—one moment the children are there, and the next they’re gone. Told from the perspectives of both the children and the parents, Meloy’s thrilling novel will make you hold close the people that matter most and question what it means to feel secure. To buy: $19; amazon.com.Released June 6.

As an avid reader, there’s nothing I love more than becoming so entranced by a book that the hours—and pages—fly by. It’s a thrill I constantly chase.

But I've found it’s remarkably hard to find page-turners that aren’t brimming with cringe-worthy prose. Many times, I find these quick, engrossing reads feature unrealistic dialogue, fluffy description, and lazy metaphors to fill in the momentum-driven plot. There’s always a caveat: I'm wholly entertained, but I don’t think there’s a lot of lingering substance behind the words.

So when I find a book I can’t put down that feels more on the side of literature than a soap opera or procedural drama, I’m wont to recommend it to whomever is listening. And the latest book that fits this category for me was Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy. Originally released in June, this 342-page novel follows two families on a cruise around Central America that horribly goes wrong. Docked for an excursion, a series of unfortunate events leads the children to separate from their parents.

I’ll admit: when I first read the synopsis, I didn’t necessarily think the book was going to be for me. First of all, I’m not a mother—so I was nervous about not empathizing with the parent-child bonds the book was centered on. And second, I tend to be annoyed by books that build the story around the characters' wealth.

But despite these roadblocks, I decided to give it a go when a friend (whose literary opinion I greatly respect) lent me her copy of the book for a three-hour train ride. The hours and pages flew by.

Just a fair warning: Meloy doesn’t hold back on the horrifying events—she explores what can happen when every parent’s worst fear comes true. However, it's clear she's more emotionally sophisticated than other authors and doesn't fall into the trap of milking tragedy to hold readers' attention. Case in point, her narration switches back and forth between the parents and the children’s experiences, allowing for an exploration of the emotions that come from the shock of separation. Fear, anger, grief, and anxiety linger as if they're characters in the novel themselves.

Meloy is known for her ability to write incredibly engrossing characters that provoke tremendous empathy. I was entranced by her ability to put the reader in the middle of each character’s decision-making. And when each character was acting solely on emotion, Meloy did a masterful job of making the reader to feel whisked away or overwhelmed by the words on the page.

Even if you usually don’t pick up thrillers or family dramas, I think this one’s worth picking up. I promise that not only will you be done in three days, tops (most others I've talked to finished in less than 48 hours), but you’ll also find the experience heart-wrenching, stimulating, and ultimately satisfying.