Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Release Date: 09/24/13 (Today!)
Source: Edelweiss via publisher
Published by: Katherine Tegen

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water. 

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….

With evocative, spare language and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author Mindy McGinnis depicts one girl’s journey in a barren world not so different than our own.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Lynn, the protagonist - Kick-ass protagonist extraordinaire. Lynn had to kill her first man at the age of nine (first line of the book - not a spoiler) and has always had to help her mother purify water for them to store and later drink. Help her gather wood and cook the game that they muster before the winter chill sets in and forces them to hibernate in their all-too-vulnerable house. This has made Lynn into a pragmatic, no nonsense heroine who is willing to get the job done right and well even when the task is hard. Does that mean she's not emotional? Not at all. Given the things that Lynn has to do and given how she suffers, it's easy to identify with her and her struggles. And hey, this protagonist knows how to wield a shotgun. Knows to strip a body for goods and to take night watches on the roof of her house -- it's hard not to admire someone who's so determined, so smart and loyal and fierce and utterly competent.
2. (+) World-building - This is where the book excels. Mindy McGinnis paints a world that is so stark and realistic that it's frightening. Honestly, as she unveiled how the world degenerated, I realized that that kind of situation could actually happen. And you know it takes true talent to make that backstory and the individual details of the world itself come to life. You learn of Lynn's water purification system, the cholera epidemic, and survivalist details like how to cure animals, how to witch water and set fires that don't just give off smoke. You learn about the city and its population standards and law makers and the wild where Lynn lives, and how the Shortage originated and was handled politically across the world. You learn about coyotes and gangrene and both the ugly and beautiful sides to nature. To contrast all the lovely details are random famous English poems (i.e. one from Yeats, some from Frost, etc.). The plot is firmly set in the little every day details of this world and what it means to live when water is in limited supply.
3. (+) Romance - Here's the thing: Eli doesn't do much for me as a romantic interest - we don't learn a lot about him - but I'm okay with that because the focus isn't on the romance, that side plot. The romance is good for what it is. A lightening factor. A thread of hope and love in a dark world, brimming with the stink of death and the chill of harsh winters. Eli is a city boy matched to the country girl, Lynn, and he teases her in such a way that immediately endears me to him. He never mocked Lynn for her ignorance, instead treating her with a soft kindness that made him adorable. He alternates between brave and desperate, teasing and gentle, secretive and real, but at the end of day, like Lynn, he's only trying his hardest for the ones he loves.
4. (+) Unconventional - You know that Frost poem that says "I took the road less traveled by--and that has made all the difference?" This book quotes that and quite appropriately given its unconventional context. For one, you've got a dystopia that doesn't involve a lot of action and isn't wholly symbolic a la Matched or poetic a la Wither. Instead you've got a dystopia that focuses on the harsh edges of humanity and the thin balance between survival and morality and meaning. You've also got a feminist bent on a wildly harsh, almost Western-esque (minus the Ohio setting) story and an author who's willing to take huge risks across the board. And because this book was so unconventional, I was honestly thrown for a loop when it came to some of the plot twists.
5. (+) Humor - If this story was only about survival, I probably wouldn't have been as interested or drawn to its characters. What makes this story work are the few bouts of humor, sometimes bleak and dark to fit the story but most of the times humor due to Lynn's ignorance. Having been raised in the middle of nowhere with only her Mother and paranoia for company, Lynn doesn't know how to flirt and has that awkward sex-ed talk way too late in her life. Yes, a lot of books have humor based on sexual naivete, but there's a wonderful authenticity to this shown in Lynn's pragmatism and no nonsense attitude except for when the right moment comes. It works well with the feminist aspects.
6. (+) Character Growth & Relationships - Particularly the strong female relationships - let me mention that off the bat; if you're looking for more strong friendships in YA lit, look no further than this book. In order to grow, Lynn must make open herself to strangers instead of blithely shooting at everyone who dares to approach. In doing so, she meets some particularly awesome characters who become her family, her meaning, her guides to how to live the life that she wants/needs but doesn't realize just yet. I thought that each of the relationships that Lynn had with the characters (even if I wanted more information on the characters themselves) was well developed.
7. (+/-) That Special Spark - Really, Not a Drop to Drink is everything the synopsis says the book is: Minimalist prose. Kick-ass, competent heroine. Not a lot of action, but a lot of thought-provoking details on the wilderness and how to survive and what it means to survive (the themes are really great, explored well and have the potential to be extensively discussed). This was a great read and executed well. However, it probably won't make my favorites list, because as much as I appreciated the quiet steadiness of this novel, a part of me also longed for more excitement. As usual, special spark = personal preference.
8. (+) Writing - The summary describes this writing well:  there is not a single wasted detail on the setting, the labor involved in various tasks, etc. and when it comes to action? Ooh, the bloody images. McGinnis does not spare you, which of course fits with the survivalist feel. This also means for some beautifully simple yet evocative prose (Another low moan rose from the grass. "That was a good shot," Mother said, nodding toward it. / "Not good enough." / Mother shrugged. "It was dark." She rose and stretched out her stiff body, a sign that she truly felt safe. "You'll get better." / Another cry. Mother licked her finger, tested the wind, and fired once into the night. / Silence fell. (p. 21 in e-arc, quote may change later.)). There are also a lot of scene breaks.
9. (+/-) Pacing - Because this book focuses on the every day life of Lynn and the others near her pond, the times when things do happen seem to hit you in the face, if that makes sense. The book has a traditional, linear storyline in the sense that you can tell Lynn's got her character arc and that the book builds to a climax, but the climax, while epic and brutal, wasn't as long as I would have hoped and in between those spurts of action, I felt restless, wanting more.
10. (+) Cover - This is still quite possibly my favorite cover of 2013. The bold font, the symbolism in the colors, the depiction of the plot and the setting, Lynn standing on her roof, shotgun in hand. SO beautiful.

If you're a lover of the wilderness, of the scope of the settings in the Fire and Thorns trilogy, this book is for you. If you wanted less visceral, heart-pumping action from The Hunger Games and more focus on the survivalist aspects, this book is for you. In fact, some of the action reminded me of No Country for Old Men (the blood spatter! the hard choices! Lynn and her shotgun and spending "every minute living working against dying"), but this book also has a feminist twist. The author described this book as Little House on the Prairie on steroids, or LHotP meets The Hunger Games. These are both truly accurate descriptions, and although this book fell just short of being a favorite, I can do nothing but recommend it and hope that it flies off the shelves and gets well stocked at libraries.

Here's the trailer too, if you're interested:

If you've read the novel, some spoiler discussion questions:
what did you think of the decision to kill Eli?
was that Big Bastard at the end? did Lynn let him live?
do you think this kind of world could actually happen? 
or were you bothered by the vague mention of the Second War on Oil?
what was your favorite part?


  1. I have to admit I like a lot of action, but I also love the survivalist details. One of my biggest dystopian/post-apocalyptic pet peeves is the lack of basic survival struggles.

    "first line of the book - not a spoiler" < Haha. My chest kind of seized up there for a moment. *whew* :)

    I'm sad Not a Drop to Drink didn't have that spark for you. I've been at war with YA dystopia for a while now. Despite that, I've had a pretty big interest in checking this one out. My main reason was my assumption the main character would have to be a badass to still have a pond in a time of no water. I'm glad you confirmed that for me.

  2. Every time I see a review from you that is mostly positive, I'm scared haha because it means I'll be so tempted to get it and then I start internally crying because I can't possibly get it now.

    Wow, kick ass heroine? You've got me sold already. A lot of dystopians don't focus much on the worldbuilding, relying on the story but good to hear this one actually took time to make the worldbuilding good. Meh, I find romance in dystopians too typical but if it's not the main focus of the book, I'm down with it. Humour is always an added plus. Gah, everything you've listed down here just makes me want it!!

  3. This sounds like a book I would like. Great heroine, world-building, some humor, and a little romance. I do like action, but sometimes books have so much action that the rest of it is lacking, I don't feel like I get to know the characters, and it's difficult to even picture the world. I'll definitely have to check this one out. Great review, as always! ~Pam

  4. I haven't had a chance to read this one yet but I'm so glad to see that you enjoyed it! And that the world-building excelled. With a novel like this that's key. :)

  5. I've been iffy on this until now so THANK YOU. It sounds great and I smiled more and more as I read all the positives you listed. Usually I need lots of great romance, but I can see how this one works. I love how you called it "a lightening factor." Great review, Christina!

  6. Yay!! I hope you enjoy NOT A DROP TO DRINK. You'll have to let me know how it goes.

    Thanks for stopping by, Jenna. Apologies for the lateness in my commenting back! Am hoping to catch up soon!

  7. Me too - most of my favorites tend to have a heavier romance element than this did, but yeah, it fit really well with the story being told. I really hope you enjoy the book, Sunny. Please do let me know if and when you get the chance to read it :).

  8. After TSN, I hope you'll be able to read this one, Bonnie :). And yes, the world-building here was all in the marvelous details.

  9. "sometimes books have so much action that the rest of it is lacking,"
    ^-- Agreed. Definitely agreed. Especially with YA dystopian novels of late. But I should warn you that some people have complained a bit about the characters - that the MC is so strong, such a great heroine that she so clearly outshines the rest of the cast. The world - there's no problem with. The characters, in my opinion, were okay, but just in case.... I do hope you enjoy this one if you pick it up!

  10. Yes, this is a basic survival struggle. It's definitely different from its companion dystopian novels in emphasizing that aspect (is it still considered dystopian then, if there's not really a Big Brother?)

    Yeah!! Sorry, I hope to never, ever spoil a book for someone! And Lynn may very well be one of my favorite heroines of all time. Her and her mother - yes, they are badasses taking care of their pond. I hope you enjoy getting to read her narrative :).

    So Jennifer, I clearly failed at visiting your blog yesterday though I hoped I would. Bargh. Today, so today when I wake up. I am so sorry that I am behind on that o.o.

  11. MUAhAHA. (But I also know what you mean. Though we're book bloggers, sometimes I honestly dislike reading reviews because I tend to feel tempted to buy books more often after them :D)

    Yes! Funny that you should mention that. This book definitely has one of those high concept ideas, but it does focus on the details of the world to make it more realistic in its execution. Hahah, it's typical in the sense that you'll see it coming before the MC (as usual), but other than that? Not that typical & also off to the side. Charlotte, if I had a copy to give to you, I would!

  12. I agree about Eli. I liked his character, but I never really FELT anything for him as a romantic interest. The romance was good, and fairly well-written, but nothing significantly more. But like you said, it's never the main plot, so that doesn't feel like a flaw. And yes! I agree about the world-building. Especially the survivalist details. You can really believe the whole situation of Lynn's reality due to the little things like that. It kind of made me think of Katniss in the games, actually, even though that's a comparison I generally like to avoid. I do understand what you mean about the pacing and feeling somewhat restless. I think a lot of readers will probably feel similarly. Personally, I preferred the everyday, slow survival aspect of the story to the bursts of action, but I imagine if the more aggressive parts of the tale had been woven in a little more smoothly, this book would have been even better. I'm glad you enjoyed it for the most part, Christina! Lovely review as always :)

  13. SOLD. I wanted to read this book because of the whole Blood Red Road vibe I felt (have you read that bk/ series, btw?) but sometimes survivalist books can wear on me. Especially post apocalyptic survivalist stories. So I am thrilled to hear that there is great world building and strong female bonds-that's something I LOVE in the books I read. I am a romantic, so light romance is ok when balanced with strong everything else--but one of things I really love about the BRR series is the romance factor. Regardless I want to try this one out because all the reviews I have read have been positive so far. Your's is my fave review I have read though, Christina--I wanted more detail about this book and you have provided it, so thanks! :)

  14. There are a lot of good books out today but I'm definitely getting this one. I've been looking forward to it ever since I've heard about it. I love strong heroines.

  15. Lauren, Love is not a triangleSeptember 25, 2013 at 6:42 PM

    I've had this galley sitting on my kindle for ages, and for some reason I just cannot bring myself to read it. I started the first chapter and it felt so bleak. And I'm starting to feel done with dystopians. However, I do like that the world building is so strong and that this society feels true (in the context of the story). Sometimes I don't get that with these types of books so all the survival-ness of the story and how authentic it reads is a big plus. Also, I like that Lynn is no nonsense, but we get to see her grow as a person in the story. I adore well written books with prose that isn't wasted, and that definitely has me interested. As well as the fact that you call this plot unconventional and surprising. You've definitely made me think I need to get on reading this, thanks for that!

  16. Nope! I really want to though. (YET ANOTHER REC, HEATHER :D). I see it referred to constantly in the blogosphere. Yeah, survivalist stories can feel so bleak, they're hard to read sometimes... but yes, there are quite a few strong female bonds and the world-building details? I do think you'd like them :). The romance isn't really emphasized; it's there and it helps, but I wouldn't go into the book expecting a lot of it. I am looking forward to seeing what you think of it!

  17. Haha, I feel you on avoiding the Katniss comparison. I was a tad hesitant to even write that one towards the end. I actually liked this better though -- the survivalist aspects of this book than those in THG. This book felt more real, more raw, grittier.

    " I imagine if the more aggressive parts of the tale had been woven in a little more smoothly, this book would have been even better." <-- Yes. I'm not a huge huge huge action fan, so I think you've isolated why I felt the way I did about the pacing :).

  18. It is really bleak. It's raw. Gritty, harsh. I would not suggest reading this unless you're in the mood for something like that; I imagine that would exacerbate the restless feeling from the pacing. The society feels true as of today too! It's not really that hard to picture a world without water when there are so people who are already without it. But yes, Lauren, you should read this! And then we can discuss more :).

  19. #1. Duh, Jessie. There is no possible other explanation than our mutual great taste ;). Definitely pragmatic--also means that I would never be able to get through that kind of situation o.O. HAHAHAH ME TOO ON SPIDERS. I am decent at that, but literally when there's one climbing high on the wall, and I can't kill it... *shudders*

    #3. YES. That was actually probably my favorite aspect because she was willing to take risks in that department. Unconventional definitely.

    #4. Maybe - I know that its unconventionality and the details that made this feel raw, realistic, gritty, authentic were why it *almost* was a favorite for me.


  20. #1. I also really liked Lynn! We seem to enjoy the same main characters. I will take that to mean we both have great taste ;) I also described her as pragmatic, because any girl that lives the way she has had to is DEFINITELY using pragmatism to get through the day.

    And major kudos for having the ability to defend herserlf/land at nine. I'm 25 and I can't kill a spider. Granted, my life doesn't depend on it (UNLESS IT IS POISONOUS OMG), but still, that is one helluva way to introduce/show a character.

    #2. AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY ABOUT THE WORLDBUILDING. I mean, billions of people in modern day have trouble accessing clean, drinkable water. How fantastic of an idea to extrapolate that into an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel? It really works.

    #3. Excellent point about Eli. I didn't care for him and thought he detracted from the novel, but I can see your point. Without the faint hope he provides for Lynn, this would've been a darker novel. I also like that the romance doesn't go along perfectly, if you know what I mean and I think you do because WHOA ENDING.

    #4. Yes - this totally is a "road less traveled" book. It's a lot quieter than its genre pals. There is *some* action, but most of the narrative is devoted to the day-by-day things Lynn does just to survive. I liked it better than most dystopias/post apoc novels. Hmmm... wonder if that is part of the reason why?

    #10. I also really love this cover. It's different but still very eye-catching. Love the colors and little bit of black. It works reaalllly well. Plus: the all important pond!

  21. Having read this review, I am so interested in this book. Firstly, it sounds like such an exemplary unique dystopia, which is something I really need right now! I am also excited about the minimalist prose - curt sentences will help enhance the intensity! Ah! Adding this on my TBR list naow. Btw, I will be sending you a BookLikes icon to match the other green ones.

  22. It's finding out about books like these that make me love dystopian novels so much. This book has a premise that sounds so intriguing. And knowing that Not A Drop to Drink is unconventional with the way it presents its story makes me even more interested.

    "It's hard not to admire someone who's so determined, so smart and loyal and fierce and utterly competent." <--- I love characters like these and it does sound like Lyn is one of those characters! It's also really nice to know that the author made sure to make Lynn feel human and easy to identify with ;)

    And hurrah! Character growth and strong friendships! I think that the growing that people grow though mostly comes from meeting people and forming relationships with them, so knowing that Not A Drop to Drink has relationships that make an impact on the character is great.

    Amazing review!

  23. What an amazing blog!!!!!

    This book is on my TBR list as well

    I'm a new GFC follower

    xo Sarah @ The Ultimate Bookworms.

  24. Not A Drop to Drink sounds like such an amazing book, and I got the chills from reading an excerpt of the first chapter. I wouldn't mind trying it, because I like books that makes me think.

    As for the idea of running out for water, it's a little unbelievable to me, since I live in the Philippines. There's just too much water here.

  25. It is extremely unique and exemplary. It feels more survivalist than dystopia at times since dystopia seems more focused on Big Brother and the Government Doing Bad. And yes -- the minimalist prose definitely enhanced the intensity of the book :). AND THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SENDING THE MATCHING ICON!

  26. Right?? Sometimes it seems like there are so many dystopian novels that now those do get published HAVE to have really intriguing premises. And yes, NaDtD is very unconventional; I do hope you'll enjoy it!

    Lyn is the best. She's probably one of my favorite MCs especially because of how easy it was to relate to her and how she grew from getting to know other people and form relationships. Thanks, Lesley!! :)

  27. Oooh, yes!! The first chapter is just great at building the suspense. Even by mentioning this, you're making me want to reread the book. I hope you get around to reading NaDtD!

  28. Great review :) I've been debating about this one as I'm not sure the whole survivalist theme would appeal to me that much, but I'm always looking for something fresh in the dystopia genre to try. Looks like the romance doesn't over take things, so I think I might be convinced to give it a shot.


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