About a year ago, I couldn’t get enough of the dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels that were flooding the market. However, the sub-par offerings wore me down, and now I’m very wary of reading any of them. Positive reviews of Not a Drop to Drink convinced me that I needed to give this one a shot and I am very glad I did. Mindy McGinnis’ debut novel stands out from the crowd with its quiet focus and daring.
In an eerily possible post-apocalyptic future, potable water is scarce. The bulk of humanity has clustered into cities, where purified water can be purchased at punishing prices. McGinnis doesn’t really go deeply into the reasons why this has come about, but Lynn, the heroine, doesn’t know either. The scale of the world building is quite small, limited to Lynn’s own view, and she doesn’t venture more than a few miles from her pond. Though this narrows the scope, McGinnis does this very effectively.
Where most post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels are highly dramatic and jam-packed with action, Not a Drop to Drink is subtler and quieter. Though there’s a lot of darkness here, McGinnis creates Lynn’s world view so effectively that everything, terrible or boring, feels like an ordinary part of daily life. Herein lies the strength of the novel. When Lynn and her mother kill men who approach their house in the night, it’s NORMAL; it’s not a good thing, but done with the same grim determination as a family barely making ends meet from month to month. McGinnis doesn’t cover what the whole world is doing, but establishes how a single girl might make a life for herself under these circumstances. The focus is the day in and day out of protecting the well, preparing for winter, and fending off those who would take from her.
Lynn killed for the first time at the age of nine. Her mother trained her well, and together they defend the pond that is their reliable water source, the most valuable possession they have. They trust nobody else, except partially Stebbs, who has a small cottage across a wide field. What’s so wonderful about the opening is that Lynn and her mother put their survival above everything else. Lynn’s mother’s cold practicality is well-summed up by this harrowing quote.
“Just know that there’s bad men in the world, and dying fast by your mother is a better way than theirs.”
Central to Not a Drop to Drink is Lynn’s emotional journey from being as cold and hardened as her mother to a caring individual, capable of trusting when warranted. However, and this really makes Not a Drop to Drink different from the standard dystopian offerings, Lynn’s softening doesn’t happen as a result of a romance. Instead, the biggest influences on her are Stebbs, who is one of the best mentor characters I’ve read, and Lucy, a young girl that Lynn can’t quite bring herself to leave to the elements. There is a boy, but he has much less of an impact on her than they do.
What Left Me Wanting Just a Bit More:
The way that Mindy McGinnis ended things really surprised me, largely in a great way. Unlike most YA post-apocalyptic novels, she actually kills off some protagonists, which I always love. The epilogue, however, was the one thing that I wasn’t sure about. It jumps so far in the future, and I don’t really know what to make of it.
The Final Verdict:
Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink manages to be an original, beautiful read in an over-saturated genre. I highly recommend this for readers who appreciate good character arcs, a strong setting, darkness, and do not mind a slower pace.