Distress Signals: Maile Meloy's Do Not Become Alarmed

Penguin Random House

Meloy’s new novel captures the thrills and dangers of ocean cruises.

A few pages into Maile Meloy’s much-anticipated Do Not Become Alarmed (Riverhead, June 6), a child runs to the railing of a cruise ship to watch the bow thrusters churn the water below, and it’s hard not to notice the foreshadowing at play. “Kids have so much freedom onboard a ship. It all seems safe and contained, but there’s also the vertical drop to the ocean,” says Meloy, 45, whose family worked on cruise liners and often invited her along on unfilled passages. “Safety and danger share the same space, so it was a natural place to start this book.”

Meloy is well acquainted with the minds of children, having written a best-selling middle-grade trilogy, the Apothecary Series. But she’s no stranger to literary fiction—in fact, Kelly Reichardt’s recent indie film Certain Women (with Michelle Williams) was based on a collection of Meloy’s short stories. Do Not Become Alarmed is largely inspired by Richard Hughes’s 1929 novel, A High Wind in Jamaica, about kids who are accidentally taken by pirates. “The pirates don’t want the kids,” Meloy says. “And the kids love being on the pirate ship.” Meloy’s excellent book is also about children who find themselves in peril, the perspective flipping between the lost kids and their frantic parents. “Writing for kids strengthened my plot-devising muscle, but I’m still interested in the same things: in what happens between people, and how they play off each other.”