Not a Drop to Drink

By Mindy McGinnis
Published on September 24th 2013
Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Source: Publisher (Edelweiss)
Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn't leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.
I love dystopian novels but it's easy to get burnt out on them -- bad worldbuilding, cliche characters, predictable plot twists, and unconvincing love interests are all things that have totally thrown me out of what should have otherwise been a story that I loved.  So I understandably get a bit nervous when I pick up a new one that I've been highly anticipating.  Is it going to let me down?  Am I going to wind up blogging about how annoying the book was?  Get burned enough times and those are the questions you start to ask yourself.

Well, I am beyond pleased to say that I loved Mindy McGinnis' Not a Drop to Drink.

I think I loved it most because it felt different from most dystopian novels.  There's nothing paranormal or supernatural -- just a world running out of water, where those rich enough to pay for water are kept safe in walled-up, strictly managed cities, while everyone else has to fend for themselves.  The characters aren't superheroes, or genetically modified in some way, or even particularly brilliant, they're just real people doing their best to survive.  Taking away super advanced technology, zombies, or mysterious illnesses makes Not a Drop to Drink feel like a more human story, and even though its characters are often gruff and anti-social, I still feel like it's a world that I can envision happening.

The story drops us right into the middle of Lynn and Mother's world, where they have to protect the lake, their only source of water, at all costs.  You gradually begin to see that Mother's a very hardened woman and that this has rubbed off on Lynn, who has interacted with very few other people in her life.  They're women of few words, but they are tough and smart and capable and will mess you up if you come for their water.  Oh, boy, will they mess you up.

Lynn's character arc and growth in this book is excellent and very well done.  She goes from only having Mother, to having to learn to let all sorts of other people in.  Including, yes, a love interest, which happens quickly but worked for me as it was just another way that showed Lynn having to learn to coexist with people other than Mother. It's rough going, and Lynn can come across as rude and callous, but solitary survival is all she's known for so long that change doesn't happen overnight.  Watching her learn to take pleasure in simple things, like telling a joke or playing in the snow, is a joy to read about.

And while I don't want to spoil anything, there are some events in the story that are downright brutal that I didn't see coming.  Shocking events aren't exactly anything new in books, but the things that happen here are just rough and hard to take, in the best sort of "but I was so invested in that" way.  I think it's because everything here felt so real and familiar that it was easier to identify with Lynn and her isolated, rural upbringing and difficulties interacting with other humans.

I don't think this book is for everyone.  For about 98% of the book, the universe is very bleak and depressing, and the characters are tough, emotionally, which could make them harder to relate to.  It's more a story of survival than a non-stop action-packed adventure.  I was frequently reminded of The Road, or at least the bleak atmosphere that the book is set in.  This is an excellent debut novel from Mindy McGinnis and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

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