4.5 rounded down
As a fan of dystopian novels, I was eager to read this. I’d heard it was stark, sometimes uncomfortable and bleak to read with some moments of angst. The reviews I’d read made the book seem dire and almost overwhelmingly dark. I had some hesitation because while I like dystopian, I don’t want to be depressed after reading a book. However, upon finishing Not a Drop to Drink, I didn’t feel depressed at all. I found the material fascinating and I flew through the pages. I never felt the world was desolate or depressing. Harsh, stark, and unforgiving definitely but there is always a thread of hope and the book actually ends on an absurdly positive note. I think dystopian fans will really enjoy this story, even if the YA romance shouldn’t have been included.
Lynn has been raised from birth to be strong and practical. Her mother, Lauren, has lived through the world changing and water becoming precious. She realizes that the pond next to their house is their only means for survival and more so, others will want to take it from them. Lauren raises Lynn to be self sufficient, capable, and ready to kill at a moment’s notice. It’s better to kill and be safe then risk yourself, your water, or your home. Lynn is everything Lauren taught her to be, yet when Lauren dies unexpectedly, Lynn is faced with several challenges. Not the least of which is new neighbors near the stream that can’t take care of themselves, let alone a little girl. The world is constantly changing and Lynn must now decide on her own how to handle these new threats.
To start with the world building and setting is really masterful. There is just enough detail to understand that Lynn is living in a semi-rural farmhouse somewhere in Ohio. Other than that, the setting is made up for reasons still unknown. The nearest city is called Entargo and I’m not sure why the author just didn’t include a real city since it’s set in a real state. There are a few more bumps where the reader has to suspend disbelief and accept things, however wrong, to go along with the story. Other than those few slips though, the bleak setting is incredible. The skillful writing creates a sense of isolation that never goes away. The real threat of death and danger is omnipresent and helps plunge the characters into an unforgiving way of life. They truly have no choice to survive. In a dystopian novel, the sense of desperation is essential and the story manages to walk the delicate line of harsh reality tinged with a small bit of hope.
That necessary feeling of hope to offset grim reality comes to Lynn in the interactions with other people. First there’s her older neighbor Stebbs and the two gradually come to trust and rely on each other. Then there are Eli, Neva, Lucy, and Vera, a group that fled from the city with almost no ability to survive in the countryside. While Lynn’s initial reaction is to let them die or survive on their own, Stebbs talks her into helping the group and Lynn relaxes her ever present edge that’s needed to defend her land and water. While I appreciated the positivity mixed in with an otherwise dreary survival, I didn’t always like the actions. I could see the story attempting to soften Lynn slightly and I wasn’t sure I bought into the idea she actually would relax in any way.
This is partly because I felt the pseudo brief romance between Lynn and Eli felt forced and unnecessary. Just agreeing to help others for no benefit of her own is a huge step forward for Lynn so I didn’t think there needed to be the added romantic element. This even distracted from the other, much more dire and important actions happening concurrently. It’s not a bad or unbelievable element, just unnecessary I felt.
I could get over the romance though because I found the storytelling so dynamic and absorbing. Lynn grabbed my attention from the very beginning and I was plunged into her daily fight for survival. Though the tasks may have been trivial or repetitive, due to their large importance to Lynn’s existence I was never bored. The story isn’t action filled but the constant tension and deserted feel to the world kept my attention and it never waivered. I especially enjoyed Stebbs and Lynn’s actions at the end and Lynn’s final conversation with the bad guy. This not only cemented Lynn’s character, very much a product of her mother’s upbringing, but also her own evolution as an individual. Lynn is shaped by her circumstances and her mother, but capable of being her own person.
The ending is a huge shot of positive hope and redemption for both people and the world. I think it’s a bit overdone and I personally didn’t need it to feel good about the book and characters. However after such austerity I can understand if other readers appreciated the very positive and uplifting ending. Either way I’d easily recommend this to fans of the genre and I hope this author writes more.