Goodreads: Not a Drop to Drink
Published: September 24, 2013
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
Mindy McGinnis builds a harsh, barren world in her post-apocalyptic novel Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn and her mother live alone, guarding their pond with their guns. They have nothing but each other—no other family, no friends, and no purpose besides protecting the water so they can live another day. Somewhat unusually for a book of this genre, they appear to have no hope for the future either. They never think that somewhere there are people who are living better, or that one day they, or their grandchildren, will know a world where water is anything but scarce. These characters are not fighting for any far-reaching cause. They live on autopilot, surviving just to survive. That makes them dangerous to trespassers, and incredibly intriguing to readers.
Lynn is not particularly emotional. In part, she is flat because of her lifestyle. For most of her life, she has known one person. Her only education is the bits of poetry her mother, an English major in her past life, likes to quote. She knows little besides lying on her roof with her rifle, shooting anyone who comes close enough for her to see. Her only other tasks all focus on survival: gardening, hunting, chopping wood. In some respects, Lynn and her mother are machines, looking only a few steps ahead, doing only what they must to live. They have no time or need for sentiment.
Yet Lynn’s apparent callousness can make her almost immediately appealing as a character. Perhaps she will not be likeable or relatable to many readers—but she is undeniably different. She is a character readers will want to watch, just to see what she does next, just to see someone do things they can never imagine doing themselves.
Her emotional isolation also becomes thematically interesting, once some plot events lead her to begin experiencing character growth. Lynn’s transformation from an unquestioning sniper to someone with a conscience suggests that a sense of morality is something innate to humans, not something socially constructed and taught. This could be a great discussion topic for readers.
Lynn’s emotional barriers are a small downfall in regards to the novel’s romance, however. While the romantic scenes are well-written, touching with a hint of swoon, the actual relationship Lynn experiences could have been more moving. She meets a nice guy, no mistake—someone who is kind, hard-working, and apparently good-looking. Unfortunately, readers are not given much a sense why the two characters are attracted to each other. If given a guess, I would they bond simply because they are not acquainted with anyone else.
In contrast, the setting of the story is richly imagined—bleak with reminders of a ruined past. It is incredibly effective. The world-building is also generally well-done. McGinnis offers a fairly complete timeline explaining how Lynn’s world came to be. The only fact missing might be the most important: How, exactly, did the world come to lack fresh water? Readers will never know.
Often, the mark of a great dystopian or post-apocalyptic world is its believability, the sense that something in our current world could lead it to become like the world in the book (ex. Obsession with physical appearance could lead us to a world like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies). Personally, I am not aware of any worries over the Earth’s water supply, and Not a Drop to Drink does not introduce me to any, so the novel fails that test. The execution of McGinnis’s idea seems plausible, but its cause is nowhere to be found. I am not afraid of my future looking like Lynn’s reality.
The plot may not be exciting (this is no war novel, no epic dystopian battle against a corrupt government), but it is very satisfying, and it tends to move along at a nice pace. Readers are unlikely to feel stuck, even though the action occurs within a very limited area. Ironically, however, the weakest part of the novel may be the climax. Things get crazier—but the feel does not match the rest of the book. Also, the wrong characters die; other characters would have been a greater loss, from a literary standpoint. The epilogue is worse, as it is unintentionally bland. I did not feel that anything had concluded, or changed much even though it was clear things had. On Goodreads, I docked a star from my rating primarily because of the ending.
Yet overall Not a Drop to Drink is a good read—tightly written, carefully planned, and just incredibly interesting. In a world beginning to fill with post-apocalyptic literature, it feels original. Recommended to fans of the genre and those looking for stark, realistic settings.
Content Note: Implied rape.
7 thoughts on “Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis”
“I am not aware of any worries over the Earth’s water supply.” I am. It’s not talked about much, but it is a known concern. The water-table in my own area has dropped dramatically, and pollutants are compromising water sources faster than they can be purified. I don’t know how the issue is represented in the novel, but it is quite possible that the author was following up on this trend.
Thanks for clarifying! I’ve seen a lot of readers comment that the lack of water is “plausible,” but I haven’t seen people follow up on the statement!
I would have liked McGinnis to give a little background on the history of the issue in the book, just to help out readers like me who aren’t really aware of the current state of our water. Basically, the characters casually comment that people began panicking over water, and it was rationed a bit, and then there was a shortage. There wasn’t enough information given for readers to determine whether this idea came from McGinnis’s imagination or whether she was basing it on a current issue.
I do hope I’m not the only person unaware of this! I feel under-educated now.
You’re not the only one, and you’re not under-educated. In many countries and many areas, it’s not enough of an issue yet to get attention. It’s starting to become more prominent, but it will be a while yet, I think, before it really starts getting media attention.
I feel like I am being all dire doom and gloom. But a nearby city in another state has actually been wrangling with my state to get water-rights to one of our rivers. The reason-being that their city’s growth is outstripping the available water supply. Weirdest part of all? I live in a part of the U.S. that gets plenty of rain. This is the sort of thing I would expect to be an issue in, say, Nevada. 😛
That’s really interesting. I’ll have to look more into that–and make sure I’m not running out of water and don’t even know about it. 😉 I definitely would it expect it to be happening in more arid areas.
Every now and then I hear something vague about how we might run out of water in the future, but no one ever gives any facts or figures or any idea of how pressing this issue is. The way people talk, it always sounds more like a theoretical exercise than a real issue, so it will be interesting to see if people do start to address it more directly.
That tongue-sticky-out face looks waaaay too cheerful. I wish they would change that.
I agree! He looks pretty close to being a normal smiley face.