Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review of Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

In the over-saturated market of dystopian novels, Not a Drop to Drink stands out. There aren’t weird medical procedures being performed on teenagers, there aren’t mutant creatures lurking in the wild, there are no computer chips being inserted into brains. This is a very believable future where the big wars are not being fought over oil, but over potable water. This is future we might someday meet. (Hi, I’m Kate, environmental catastrophist).

Frightening facts, folks

In contrast with the action-packed novels currently being transformed into movie franchises, Not a Drop to Drink is a quiet novel, focusing on the long empty days that true crisis can create. (In the Civil War- and most wars, probably- soldiers actually longed for the horror of battle just to have a break from the tedium of camp life). Lynn and her mother, Lauren, are surviving on the frontier, mercilessly protecting their small pond and only source of survival.

Imagine your life depends on this
Lynn has been taught at a young age how to purify water (I’m not sure I believe that the sun is strong enough to do that in the Nebraska-like setting I’m envisioning), how to farm, and how to shoot intruders first and ask questions second. Their only other source of companionship is their remote neighbor, Stebbs, and a city-bred family who begin to encroach on their land.

I like that Lynn is a survivor; she’s tough as nails and can take care of herself. While it may seem out of character that she would let anything jeopardize her survival, I think that her slow acceptance of Lucy (a 5-year old who is sometimes older than her age), Eli (a boy her own age trying to learn how to survive outside of a city) and Stebbs makes sense. Her relationship with her mother showed how devoted she could be to others, and while she was very suspect of strangers, she thrived on conversation and companionship. McGinnis showed us from early on that Lynn felt the struggle between doing what she needed to do to get through another season, but also being cognizant to the pain and struggles of others. She was constantly walking the line between survival and compassion, occasionally leaning one way or the other.

I had two main problems with the book, (other than the graphic hunting and butchering scenes, hard for me as vegetarian to read), the first being the repeated references to rape and sexual assault. My appreciation that the author recognizes this as a constant and realistic concern for a girl alone in the wilderness was somewhat tempered by my frustration that every man seemed to grab his crotch in Lynn’s presence and suggest some metaphor for rape (are women such a shortage that every man is now a sexual fiend?).

Despite McGinnis’s depiction of an austere world fraught with perils, I didn’t feel as though we spent enough time in mourning when a life was claimed. Maybe there was just too much going on and it’s a coping mechanism, but I would have appreciated a further exploration of grief. It was annoying when EVERYTHING HARRY SAID WAS IN CAPS in Order of the Phoenix, but it felt like a realistic portrayal of a teen grieving and not knowing how to express his traumatic stress. Lynn is going to explode someday, the way she bottled up and suppressed all her pain.

Kubler-Ross identified 5 stages of grief, though the experience is different for everyone
One note, though: even if Lauren was not religious, Lynn would totally know what the words “pray” and “God” meant. Unless Lauren ripped those poems out of the anthology, there was a lot of religious imagery in most poetry pre-21st century. That part was questionable to me.

What are your thoughts? How does this world compare to more fantastical dystopian worlds?

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