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Khanh the Killjoy

Mindy McGinnis - Not a Drop to Drink

Not a Drop to Drink - Mindy McGinnis

“Do you want to die like this?” Mother had asked that night and every night since then.

Lynn’s answer never changed. “No.”

And Mother’s response, their evening prayer. “Then you will have to kill.”

 

A YA dystopian with beautiful stark writing and a strong female lead that got gradually worse the further one gets into the book. The book started off so well, but got impeded by a needless romance and a very strong heroine who grew increasingly insipid. The world building was vague, but the setting was so well-depicted that it didn't decrease my enjoyment.

The first 25% of this book felt a lot like reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The beginning was absolutely gripping. We are plunged into a dystopian world, whose background is vague, but where one thing is abundantly made clear: this is a fight for survival, and water is the key. Lynn lives with her mother Lauren on their little farm, with a precious pond of water, which they desperately protect. This is not too far from the distant future, up until around 15-20 years ago, water still ran free from faucets, but since then, something has gone wrong, and it has become a valuable commodity. The human body can go without food for a long time, but not without water, and a slow death from thirst is not a pleasant one. To defend their land, to protect their water, their lifeline, Lauren and Lynn have to kill. It is a literal matter of life or death.

 

Years before, Mother had shown her pictures of the thirsty dead. Their skin hung from their bones like the wallpaper that sloughed from the walls in the unused upstairs hallway. Swollen tongues were forced past lips cracked and bleeding. Eyes sunk so deeply into sockets that the outline of the skulls was evident.

 

It is a hard life for a 16 year old. Lynn has killed, she has hunted animals for food, she harvests her small farm's crops, she has to haul in and purify the water. She spends hours sniping invaders from the rooftops of her home. There is no such thing as a break. The first 25% of the book is so brilliantly, sparsely written. The reader feels the urgency of the situation as Lynn and her mother battle out every day for survival, living under a state of constant alert, wary to any change, any sudden sounds that will warn them that a potential threat to their existence is approaching.

 

This is a somewhat frustrating review to write because there is a lot going in the book, and there is no way for me to summarize the book or to go into details with the plot or characters without spoiling it, so I'll leave it with this short summary: shit happens, and some new people come into Lynn's organized, strict existence. And that's where things went wrong for me.

 

The Plot

Overall, quite well done. The beginning and the end are incredible, action-packed...which makes the middle half seem so out of place. The middle half of the book felt completely complacent compared to the rest of the book; the survival aspect of it was very much diminished, replaced with a lot of emotional feeeeeeeels and bonding and happy cuddly moments that doesn't seem consistent with the overall theme of the book.

 

The Setting

One of the better dystopian settings I've encountered. This is due to the fact that the setting itself is centered around such a small area of Lynn's existence, in a very rural farm. The setting is limited enough so that we get a good feeling for the environment without being overwhelmed with a complex world-building that, in the case of YA, oftentimes shoots itself in the foot. They live on a large, rural plot of land, with one close neighbor (Stebbs) with whom they share a peaceful, but wary existence. They keep an eye on each other, and their peace is tenuous. They are surrounded by forests, stream, wildlife. It is a perfect setting for a nature-based survival story, and I devoured it.

 

The world building and background is vague, but in this instance, that's not a problem for me. We don't find out much about the setting until it is told to us through conversation over halfway into the novel. I did get a little frustrated at times, but the story itself is compelling enough in its fight for survival that I felt like the background was something that didn't require so much detail. In that sense, the plot holes in the background, and the fact that is is left deliberately unclear is not intolerable. The setting is small enough so that any large, complicated setup for a dystopian future would have felt widely out of place.

 

There are bits and pieces of science that were completely ludicrous to anyone with more than an elementary knowledge, for instance, the sterilization of water using exposure to normal UV light (AKA weak sunlight). No. It doesn't work that way. Also, there was a scene in the book where a medical doctor tries to cool down a high fever by plunging a child into a freezing body of water. No. Absolutely not. Any reputable doctor would know better than that. But again, I'm nitpicking, and these inconsistencies are minor enough not to bother me too much.

 

The Characters

I loved Lauren and Lynn. Lauren is Lynn's mother. She remembers the time when things were normal, when water ran freely from faucets. She has an English degree, which is rendered completely useless right now, except as a tool for educating her daughter Lynn when time allows for it. Lauren is tough. She has killed before, she will kill again, and she has taught her daughter to do the same. It's not meaningless, they have to live, and if they don't kill the invaders, others will kill them. There is a small question regarding her morals and her trigger-happy fingers, but I prefer to think of it as a mother hen defending her chick.

 

Lauren did not raise an idiot. She taught Lynn everything she knows, and that has made Lynn into a very, very competent 16 year old. She kills when she needs to, Lynn is absolutely unflinching in that sense, and I loved her for it. She makes some tough, truly heart-breaking decisions, but I never got to mourn for her or feel sorry for her, because she does it so matter-of-factly. I admire her for that. She makes tough decisions, and she never second-guesses herself, or regret the fact afterwards. Which makes it all the more mind-boggling that she acts so out of character when she meets the child, Lucy.

 

I hate, hate, hate the random insertion of a stupid child in the novel to prove that the main character has a heart. Lynn acts completely inconsistently when she chooses to more or less adopt Lucy. It makes no fucking sense. Lynn is out for survival. Survival is best when you are not bogged down with a kid, so why the fuck does she develop a soft heart when it's most inconvenient? Lucy is also an inconsistent character, she does not act like a 5-year old. She is too mature at times, and she acts her age at times, which is best described as annoying and stupid. But then again, I hate kids, and I hate children as a plot device, so it might work for some readers.

 

I loved the gradual development of a paternal-type of relationship with her neighbor, Stebbs. Their relationship grew from an uneasy one, at best, to one that is more complex than either would have initially guessed.

 

The Romance

It wasn't terrible, as dystopian romances go. I wouldn't call it insta-love, because it took a few meetings before the really heavy feels started coming into play, but it really didn't do it for me. It is somewhat understandable that Lynn falls for a cute boy, since she is so isolated living in the middle of nowhere with her mom, that really, any boy would be attractive to a 16-year old girl with the incoming surge of adolescent hormones, but Eli just doesn't seem worthy of Lynn's attention He is a city boy, he grew up in a safe, economically sound home that can afford to pay for water and the comforts of city living. He has never known need in his life until now. He can barely protect himself, he does not know how to survive at all, and in fact, he and his family nearly died until Lynn comes to their rescue. It makes no sense that Lynn would fall for such a soft boy, such a weak, inferior specimen of what passes for masculinity.

 

Overall, the beginning and end of the book compensated for the weaknesses towards the middle of the novel. This book is unwavering in its gritty portrayal of survival, and I highly recommend it for fans of a well-written survival-based dystopia.