Three families on a cruise are separated from their children during a shore excursion in Central America.
"On the walk to the buffet, Nora linked her arm through Liv’s and put her head on her shoulder, making Liv feel excessively tall. 'I love you,' Nora said. 'This was a genius idea.' "But the fun part of this cruise is almost over for these cousins from Southern California. After cautiously staying aboard in Acapulco for fear of “beheadings and food-borne pathogens,” at the next port the husbands are invited to golf by a new Argentinian friend, while Nora, Liv, and their brood of young children sign up for a zip-line tour of the rain forest. The Argentine’s wife and her teenagers decide to join them. When the van breaks down on the way, the guide suggests an impromptu swim at a nearby beach, and soon after, all six kids disappear. The remainder of the book follows the children and the adults separately, also bringing in a seventh child, an impoverished South American 10-year-old making her way north to New York with her uncle. The plot unfolds with terrifying realism, made even more potent by Meloy’s (The After-Room, 2015, etc.) sharp and economical character development. Every one of nearly 20 important characters is clearly distinguished by some memorable trait—among the kids, a Type 1 diabetic and his big boss-lady sister, a spectrum-y genius and a bunny-loving 6-year-old; among the adults, a mega-hot black Hollywood movie star and a neurotic, high-strung white studio exec—yet achieves three-dimensionality. Even the Latin American characters, who could easily become stereotypes (the tour guide, the drug lord, the maid, etc.), are more than that. This writer can apparently do it all—New Yorker stories, children’s books, award-winning literary novels, and now, a tautly plotted and culturally savvy emotional thriller.
Do not start this book after dinner or you will almost certainly be up all night.