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Not a Drop to Drink - Mindy McGinnis This book. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I put it down last night.  It invaded my dreams.  I even woke up pondering alternate endings. It's gritty. It's honest. And it. Is. Brutal.

I thought I was done with dystopians, but Mindy McGinnis has proven that there are still fresh voices to be heard in a genre rife with copycats.  I mentioned in a previous post that this novel seemed like a mash-up of Blood Red Road and Drought, but I was only at the halfway point then.  Having finished the book, I can admit that although the tone and vernacular resembled that of Blood Red Road -- though not quite to that extreme -- and the limited availability of fresh water reminded me of Drought, Not a Drop to Drink is its own story.

Things that set this book apart:  no messy love triangle, fantastic world-building, a headstrong heroine, and a strong emphasis on the fear-inducing aspects of living in a dystopian state where water is scarce.  Sure, several of these components can be found in other dystopian novels, but how often do you find them all in one place?  In my own experience, it's not often.

Yes, there is a romantic subplot to this novel.  Yes, it is cute and sweet and heart-breaking.  Lynn is your typical virginal protagonist, but in her defense, she's only ever known Mother and their neighbor Stebbs, and he didn't come around all that much in her first sixteen years.  Not a lot of opportunities to strike up a conversation or flirt, especially since Mother's stance was shoot first, ask questions later.  But tragedy strikes and Lynn is left to make that call herself, and she and Stebbs decide to offer help to the starving family trying to make a home for themselves by the stream.

At first, Lynn's demeanor seems rather harsh and callous, but she only knows what she's been taught.  I enjoyed seeing Lynn's character grow into so much more as she learned from each of her new friends. Stebbs teaches her about kindness.  Lucy teaches her about family.  Eli teaches Lynn about flirting and love. And Neva, she teaches Lynn about sacrifice.  Everything she knows about surviving she already learned from her mother, and she passes that knowledge on to the group.

And they're going to need all the lessons they can stand.  In this rural Ohio setting, the new law of the land appears to be take or be taken.  You have to fight for what you have and you can't be afraid to do what's necessary to survive.  Not a Drop to Drink is set in the not-so-distant future, where our water resources have been depleted and the government is in charge of the limited supply that's left.  It's not so hard to imagine:  we already pay for our water...it would just be a matter of the government telling us we'd have to live inside the city in order to get any of it.  The house Lynn lives in has been in her family for generations, and with the pond on their land, they don't have as much to worry about when it comes to a water source...except protecting it.
"Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond, the sweet smell of water luring the man to be picked off like the barn swallows that dared to swoop in for a drink."

Lynn can shoot a rifle with deadly accuracy.  She can bag a deer and process it herself.  And she can protect her pond when she's the only one left to do it.  But that's a lonely life for a sixteen year old girl.  It's no wonder she took to caring for Lucy like she was her own flesh and blood.  She stubbornly resisted the emotional tug of her conscience, having inherited her hardness from Mother, but there's only so long you can hold out against a sweet little five-year-old.

I think what really sold me on this story was how genuine it felt.  It didn't try to make things seem pretty and nice when they weren't.  It told the truth of how horrible other human beings could be to each other, how hard it is to survive in the wilderness when you're not prepared for it, and how people can come together to make a bad situation better.  It's a violent and cruel world Lynn finds herself in, but she's just surviving the best she can.

This was such a refreshing read, and it will definitely force others to sit up and take notice of this debut author.  I know I'm paying attention now.  And I'm sure I'll be reflecting on this novel for days to come.

Also, I have a newfound appreciation for running water and antibiotics.  I kind of understand where those "preppers" are coming from now.  :P

Thanks to HarperCollins for the ARC for review!

This review can also be found at The Starry-Eyed Revue.