Title: Not a Drop to Drink
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Star Rating: * * *
Genre: Dystopia/Post-apocalyptic, Young Adult
Lynn’s entire life has been focused on protecting her pond no matter what the cost. After all, people can live without a lot of things, but water is essential to staying alive, and there isn’t a lot of this precious resource left. For years, Lynn and her mother have dedicated their life to survival, rejecting almost all other human contact. However, when Lynn’s mother dies in a terrible accident, Lynn faces a choice between trying to survive on her own or finally letting down her barriers and accepting help from others. But who can she trust when all she has ever known is fear and isolation?
The best part of Not a Drop to Drink is Lynn, the protagonist. Looking at my blog, it’s probably readily apparent that I favour books with interesting and strong female leads, and Lynn fits this bill exceptionally well. She’s been raised in the sole company of her mother, in a world where the two of them have to kill or be killed. Consequently, she’s an angry, withdrawn, and socially inept individual who can’t think of others as anything other than enemies. She’s not a soft character, and most of the “feminine” traits of nurturing that are so prevalent in female leads are all but completely absent in her at the beginning. The book is the story of her growth into a better, more balanced human being, and this process does not come easy to her. She can’t comprehend the idea of helping someone for the sake of compassion, and everything in her world has a cost. She’s a product of her environment, and she acted as one should in this type of scenario. I really appreciated seeing a female protagonist portrayed with these types of character flaws that made so much sense in her world, and that she was never turned into a “typical” girl character, even as she began to open up more.
The other strength of Not a Drop to Drink is the chilling atmosphere. This is a dystopia/post-apocalyptic tale with some actual teeth, and McGinnis conveys the constant and never-ending fear of the situation very well. The characters clearly know that their survival depends on the small patch of water on their land as they’ve witnessed many people slowly die from dehydration. Lynn first kills someone when she is nine years old in order to ensure that the pond remains safe. Many recent dystopias/post-apocalyptic books have explored starvation as a theme, but this was one of the few books that I have seen that really pushed readers to consider what would happen if water was such an incredibly limited resource. It’s a scary reality, and it makes the world of the characters very claustrophobic.
One of my more minor critiques about the book is the romance. While I give the author mad props for writing the romance as a subplot to the overall story, I didn’t believe that it needed to be a subplot at all. Lynn is a damaged character. She’s spent her entire life with just her mother by her side, and she’s learned that other people are dangerous and liable to harm her. Her only experience with men comes from her mother’s not so forgiving descriptions of them and from her occasional interactions with her grown neighbour. Consequently, even though I can see that Lynn is starved for human affection, I don’t really buy that she’d be so quick to let Eli into her life as a love interest. Fortunately, the love story portions of this book are brief, but their implausibility drew me out of the story every time one of these scenes came up.
My other two critiques about Not a Drop to Drink are more substantial. The first concerns the lack of world-building. At the start of the book, you know that water is an extremely rare and precious resource, but you don’t find out about why until much later in the book. When the author does get around to telling her readers about what happened to make the world like this, the information is still pretty sparse. What we do learn is that there are big cities where most of the people left on Earth live, and where water is controlled by those in power. We also find out that the city military knows of all the available water sources nearby, including Lynn’s pond. I found it quite questionable that a dystopian government would be comfortable letting a source of water remain uncontrolled so close to their territory when it was protected by only two women for almost two decades. Maybe this could be explained by some additional world-building that showed how the city government wasn’t going to waste resources trying to subdue and control the rural territories, but I felt like there should have been something added to the book to explain why the city was quite content to let these scattered water resources remain in the hands of people who would normally be seen as rebels in a dystopic world.
Attached to this problem is the fact that Lynn’s mother was portrayed as a very paranoid woman who was overly suspicious and callous. Lynn spends the book learning how to appreciate her mother’s lessons without being such a misanthrope. However, thinking about the context of the book, perhaps Lynn’s mother was more right than the story gave her credit for. At the end of Not a Drop to Drink, Lynn starts to create a community with other non-city folk, but wasn’t isolation the exact thing that may have been keeping her safe? As small units of one or two people, none of the rural folk would have been seen as a threat to the cities as they simply didn’t have enough power on their own. The city knew they had water, but isolated, the rural people wouldn’t be able to muster up any sort of resistance, or offer shelter to dissidents from the cities. By creating their own community, the rural people represented a possibility of change that would have been extremely dangerous to any group maintaining political power in the city.
Admittedly, McGinnis was obviously more interested in writing a story about Lynn and the few people that she interacted with rather than a big exploration of the Earth in a water-scarce state. This is a completely valid choice, and one that I enjoyed quite a bit. However, authors shouldn’t neglect to fully question the implications of their world just because they want a story with a smaller scale. These were pretty obvious world-building issues, and the book would have been stronger had McGinnis thought them out more.
My last critique involves the ending of the book. All throughout the novel, I pegged Not a Drop to Drink as a four-star story because of the strengths of its atmosphere and characters, but the last few chapters were incredibly jarring to me. An ongoing thread throughout the book is the fact that Lynn knows that there are new people set up near another area with water, and these people have tried to attack her. As the danger increases, Lynn and her small crew decide that they must attack this settlement, leading to an extremely quick climax to the book. I found the battle to be at odds with the rest of the story’s themes and focus, and it was particularly strange and unexpected that the big bad turned out to be Lynn’s dad. This plot point did not do much for her development, and it felt like an unneeded attempt to ratchet up the suspense. During the battle, a main character was killed, but we didn’t have time to grieve since the ending was a time skip. We find out that Lynn is part of a bigger community of people living outside of the city, having finally learned to appreciate the company and strengths of others. However, as I mentioned above, not only was this possibly not a good ending when considering the world information that we were given, it also felt very sudden and unearned. Lynn was still working on being a mildly tolerable human being before the attack on the settlement, and I would have liked to see her reactions to happened during the climax. Not to say that I don’t appreciate that Not a Drop to Drink was not another sprawling trilogy, but I think that the author could have given readers a bit more of a denouement centered on character development.
Not a Drop to Drink was a fantastic book up until the last few chapters. Even so, it wasn’t that the plot or the writing was horrible, but just that I thought that the author could have done so much better with the story that she had crafted. However, despite my critiques, I am still quite ready to recommend this book as a great example of what YA dystopia/post-apocalyptic literature can be. Lynn is a suburb female lead who challenges gender stereotypes, and while the story is small in scope, its heart and lessons are poignant and fulfilling.