The best adult books featuring children in peril

Who am I?

Call me a worrier, but I’ve always viewed the world as a place fraught with danger, especially for the very young. Hidden sinkholes, falling tree branches, kidnappers lurking on street corners—there’s no threat I haven’t imagined. (Full disclosure: I’m a mom.) As a fiction author, I like to put my young characters in harm’s way and then deliver them to safety, an approach that helps me deal with my anxieties by giving me a sense of control. If I had my way, all imperiled-child stories, whether real-life or fiction, would end with a happily ever after. Alas, not all of them do.

I wrote...

Snowdrop Dreams, Cherry Thumbprint Screams

By Kimberly Baer,

Book cover of Snowdrop Dreams, Cherry Thumbprint Screams

What is my book about?

When Annie Barkley discovers a boy living in the attic of her cookie shop, she's stunned—and oddly elated. She can almost believe the universe is giving her back the infant son she lost eleven years ago. Annie senses that something bad happened to the boy, but he won't talk. All she knows is that he's terrified of being found. When her long-ago crush, police captain Sam Stern, stops by to inquire about a missing boy, Annie says she hasn't seen him.

Big mistake. Because that lie might cost her more than a romance with Sam. It also leaves her vulnerable to a ruthless pursuer, one who's determined to silence the boy for good.

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The books I picked & why

The Chain

By Adrian McKinty,

Book cover of The Chain

Why did I love this book?

This book made me wonder.

Rachel’s daughter has been kidnapped, and to get her back, Rachel must pay a ransom and abduct another child. The kidnapper is another mother whose child has been kidnapped—by someone else whose child has been kidnapped, by someone else whose... Well. You get the idea. As I tore through this novel, I couldn’t help wondering what I would do in that situation. Could I actually kidnap somebody else’s child? I still don’t have an answer, but watching this ingenious plot unfold was a rollercoaster ride I’ll never forget.

By Adrian McKinty,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Chain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a mother is targeted by a dangerous group of masterminds, she must commit a crime to save her kidnapped daughter—or risk losing her forever—in this "propulsive and original" award-winning thriller (Stephen King).

It's something parents do every morning: Rachel Klein drops her daughter at the bus stop and heads into her day. But a cell phone call from an unknown number changes everything: it's a woman on the line, informing her that she has Kylie bound and gagged in her back seat, and the only way Rachel will see her again is to follow her instructions exactly: pay a…

The Darkest Secret

By Alex Marwood,

Book cover of The Darkest Secret

Why did I love this book?

This book kept me guessing. 

A three-year-old disappears during her wealthy father’s fiftieth birthday celebration. Is it a case of stranger abduction, or something more complicated? Don’t ask the police; they’re clueless—literally. The mystery hooked me from the start, and the characters (absolute jerks, most of them) were so real, I could almost smell their boozy breath. I never did guess the shocking “darkest secret,” but that’s for the best. Correctly predicting a plot twist might be satisfying in the moment, but I’m more impressed when an author surprises me.  

By Alex Marwood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Darkest Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"If there has been a better mystery-suspense story written in this decade, I can't think of it . . . transcend[s] the genre." -Stephen King

"A cruel and cunning mystery . . . Plot-twisting, mind-altering and monstrously funny." -The New York Times Book Review

The latest gripping psychological thriller from Edgar Award winner Alex Marwood

When a child goes missing at an opulent house party, it makes international news. But what really happened behind those closed doors?

Twelve years ago, Mila Jackson's three-year-old half-sister Coco disappeared during their father's fiftieth birthday celebration, leaving behind her identical twin Ruby as the…

American Dirt

By Jeanine Cummins,

Book cover of American Dirt

Why did I love this book?

This book rocked my world.

Lydia and her young son begin a harrowing journey from Mexico to the United States after being targeted for death by a drug cartel. American Dirt has everything I relish in a story: a riveting plot, top-notch writing, believable characters, and spot-on dialogue. What’s more, it drives home the plight of migrants in a way that news stories can’t. I didn’t just read this book; I lived it. I became that desperate mother. And I too would trek across deserts and leap onto moving trains to save my child.

By Jeanine Cummins,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked American Dirt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Breathtaking... I haven't been so entirely consumed by a book for years' Telegraph
'I'll never stop thinking about it' Ann Patchett


Vivid, visceral, utterly compelling, AMERICAN DIRT is an unforgettable story of a mother and son's attempt to cross the US-Mexico border. Described as 'impossible to put down' (Saturday Review) and 'essential reading' (Tracy Chevalier), it is a story that will leave you utterly changed.

Yesterday, Lydia had a bookshop.
Yesterday, Lydia was married to a journalist.
Yesterday, she was with everyone she loved…

Book cover of Do Not Become Alarmed: A Novel

Why did I love this book?

This book made me shudder. 

Three families on a cruise go ashore in Central America. Then the unthinkable happens: their children vanish. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced that particular nightmare, but years ago my four-year-old son went AWOL for about five minutes while we were at the airport. I was a quivering blob of panic until kiddo turned up safe and sound. Of course, for the parents in this story, the terror stretches on for much longer than five minutes—and, believe me, you wouldn’t want it any other way. The unrelenting tension is just one of the elements that make this novel such a compelling read.

By Maile Meloy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Do Not Become Alarmed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship's safety.

One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents - now turning on one another and blaming themselves - try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

The New Wilderness

By Diane Cook,

Book cover of The New Wilderness

Why did I love this book?

This book changed my mind. 

Bea’s five-year-old daughter is frail and sickly, a victim of rampant air pollution. In an effort to save her, Bea and her family join an experimental program that requires them to live in the wild as nomadic hunters and gatherers. I must admit, I was initially drawn to the idea of trading the rat race for the wilderness. (No more alarm clocks! No more traffic jams!) But by the time I finished the book, that notion had lost its appeal. (No food pantries! No hospitals! Starvation! Death!) Exploring this intriguing but brutal scenario from the comfort of my living room is as close as I care to get!

By Diane Cook,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The New Wilderness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'THE ENVIRONMENTAL NOVEL OF OUR TIMES.' Lemn Sissay, Booker Prize judge

From an acclaimed Guardian First Book Award finalist comes a debut novel 'brutal and beautiful in equal measure' (Emily St. John Mandel)

Longlisted for the DUBLIN Literary Award 2022

A Guardian Best Science Fiction Book of the Year

A 'Best Book of the Year 2020' according to BBC Culture * An Irish Times Best Debut Fiction of 2020

Bea's daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away, her lungs ravaged by the smog and pollution of the overpopulated metropolis they call home.

The only alternative is to build a life in…

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