The publisher calls In a Handful of Dust a companion, but it actually spoils the events of the first book, so be careful about that. It took me a while to get into In a Handful of Dust, but it was ultimately similarly satisfying and bleak.
Trying to remember Not a Drop to Drink was a big issue for me. In a Handful of Dust jumps ten years into the future and so I’m trying to remember characters who are the same but different. There have obviously been changes and I was hard-pressed to keep up with who was important with my memories of Not a Drop so far in the past. Eventually that got sorted, but I spent a while frustrated, trying to recall which characters I already knew.
The main character of In a Handful of Dust is Lucy, the adopted daughter of Lynn, the main character of Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn is now an adult, but just as practical as ever. I love that Lynn isn’t any softer than she was in Not a Drop. Though she’s a mother of sorts now and truly loves Lucy, she’s still not emotional or any less apt to kill first and ask questions later. Lynn is as hard-edged as she needs to be to protect herself and her kin.
Lucy, however, is a foil to Lynn. Despite what she’s been through, she retains a certain naivete and faith in other people. Raised for the last years by Lynn, Vera and Stebbs, surrounded by mostly good people, she expects those she meets to be good. She likes to give people the benefit of the doubt and to seek non-violent solutions. They’re almost character studies, highlighting the benefits of skepticism and of trust in such a scenario. Ultimately, both Lucy’s kindness and Lynn’s mistrust come in handy, but I think Lynn’s really built to survive.
What I do love about this series is that McGinnis is brutal, sort of like Lynn. There’s nothing easy or convenient about life in her novels. Often, YA post-apocalyptics aren’t all that brutal. People die, but no one we care about, and ultimately the situation is resolved and normal life resumes, all while giving the main character a sexy romance. Not so with McGinnis, who obviously hates romance and wants to show a realistic scenario, by which I mean a horrifying one.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The one aspect that didn’t really work for me was the minimal romance. It wasn’t intended to be romantic, but it was a bit plothole-ish to me at times. Lucy was starting to have feelings for this boy, Carter. What the blurb doesn’t mention is that he’s also sent out of the community for the same reason as she and Lynn. However, he doesn’t know what to do and follows her. Lucy promises to leave him food and water, so he won’t starve, and tries to keep Lynn from moving to fast so he gets left behind. Then some stuff happens and she and Lynn end up moving REALLY quickly, but she never really gives thought to the fact that she’s just left him behind. This is picked up again later, but the fact that he wasn’t considered for so long bugged me. Ultimately, I liked the resolution to Carter’s story, but I think Lucy’s feelings were inconsistently handled.
The Final Verdict:
If you enjoyed Not a Drop to Drink, I think that In a Handful of Dust will likely please you as well. McGinnis’ series is a good choice for those who like their post-apocalyptic fiction truly bleak.