In a Handful of Dust

By Mindy McGinnis
Published on September 23rd 2014
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Publisher
The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier.
If I weren't already certain that Mindy McGinnis didn't already deserve a spot on my "will read everything she ever writes, ever, ever EVER" list, In a Handful of Dust cemented it for me.

The book is a continuation of the world she created in Not a Drop to Drink, which was one of only a handful of books to get a full five stars from me last year (I am very stingy with my stars).  All the press calls it a companion novel, which, okay, I guess, as it's not a direct, set-immediately-afterwards sequel. It's set about 10 years in the future and features the same main cast of characters. I would highly recommend reading Not a Drop to Drink first, to be familiar with the worldbuilding, characters, events, etc.  Otherwise, I think a lot of this story may not make sense or have the same impact for you.

McGinnis' writing is absolute perfection here again. The narrative that she crafts is so suited to this very bleak, dry world. Like I said in my review for Not a Drop to Drink, this is a dystopian that doesn't need fancy technology or war or aliens or wacky competitions or anything to be completely terrifying.  McGinnis' writing is some of the most real that I've ever come across.  Her characters are still women of few words, and maybe because I grew up somewhere rural, somewhere that could easily be a location in one of these books, but I find myself identifying with Lynn and Lucy far more than I do with any of the other fast-talking, sassy ladies of YA.

The realness is just what gets me. The characters feel real. The decisions they have to make feel real. The way they deal with them -- Lynn with stubbornness and stoicism, Lucy with emotion and hope -- feels real. This is not an easy world, and you're never fooled into thinking otherwise.  McGinnis pulls no punches; terrible things happen to people, and when survival is at stake, all you can do is pick yourself up and keep going.

If you're looking for a story that's happy from start to finish, this isn't your book (and McGinnis probably isn't going to be your author). But from my perspective, McGinnis is writing some of the best, most genre-challenging YA out there, and you should definitely give her your time.

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