3.75 out of 5
Not a Drop to Drink is a strong, well-written, and evocative read. It smartly captures and portrays a world without easily-accessible water, and McGinnis ably spins her story of survival in desperate times. Main character Lynn is a striking protagonist and a memorable one as she grows up in this world where cholera is once again a deadly force and the thirsty dead roam free. With her third person narration and the story's creative spin on a post/near-apocalypse, Not a Drop to Drink is easily one of the better YA debuts for the latter half of 2013.
The premise itself is a clever one, and McGinnis explores it pretty well. There's not a lot of information immediately dispersed about the world Lynn and her mother live in, but details are slowly revealed through dialogue, conversation, and deed. The desperate atmosphere is palpable, the drama is intense, and above all, it's a believable scenario. Scarcity of drinkable water is something billions of people in the modern world already face, so it's easy to see the possibility in McGinnis's future. The author creates several clever ideas for her characters to be able to live and function in this world, so while Lynn and Laurel have done alright, they always live on the brink of disaster and dehydration.
Lynn is a more grown up, more mature character than a lot of YA protagonists out there. Her life is demanding and one of those demands is that she grow up fast and learn to defend what is hers, be it from other people or from the encroaching and increasingly bold wildlife. Threats come from all sides in McGinnis's world, and Lynn has been capable of killing to stay alive since she was nine years old. Her world is harsh, but Lynn isn't unlikeable. She isn't afraid to make hard choices and do what is necessary. I applaud that, and Lynn's pragmatic approach to survival. Going through the day-to-day chores Lynn performs to just stay alive is a refreshing change from how most authors would approach this kind of story. It makes for a quieter, less action-packed read, but it keeps everything realistic and fresh.
However, the characterization is the main reason I can't rate this book higher. There are more people than just Lynn and her mom in the novel, but none really came to life the way the first two did. Stebbs, a longtime neighbor, came closest, but the secondary cast needs some serious fleshing out. There is a love interest, but he was wooden and ill-defined. I wanted more from the characters -- Lynn is a powerhouse, and everyone else just kind of fades away. None possess her level personality, logic, or strength. It's frustrating because there is definite potential being wasted for the characters of Neva and Eli especially. Lucy straddles the middle - she's neither as well-rounded as Lynn, but she is not as one-dimensional as her mom and uncle.
If you liked Hatchet, or are a fan of teenage survivalism and self-reliance, Not a Drop to Drink is your book. It's a smart look at a realistic apocalyptic event, told ably and well by a strong debut author. Lynn will remain memorable for me for a long time. While this is a standalone with plenty of resolution, I wouldn't be averse to a sequel, or a companion novel.