Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: In a Handful of Dust - Mindy McGinnis

Release Date: September 23, 2014
Source: Edelweiss
Published by: Katherine Tegen

In a Handful of Dust - Mindy McGinnis | Goodreads

The only thing bigger than the world is fear.

Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier.

Ha, ok, so you're going to notice a bunch of books pubbed around July-August-September that'll get reviews now. I'm catching up, so bear with me :).

In a Handful of Dust is the companion sequel to Not a Drop to Drink. Uniting the books is the world: a futuristic dystopia in which people fight over the scarce supply of water. The world reminds me a lot of a YA The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I was a huge fan of Not a Drop to Drink because of its harshness and the prose, the evocative setting and eerie realism: what if deadly diseases and high medicinal costs make water that scarce? A good part of the world already experiences the reality of unclean, unavailable water. The frightening world is made more real through McGinnis's prose.

In a Handful of Dust takes everything that was awesome about Not a Drop to Drink and amplifies those elements. Though Lucy is a gentler protagonist than Lynn was, Lynn is still quite present in In a Handful of Dust. I saw a few reviews of Not a Drop to Drink which indicated that the reviewers were not pleased with child Lucy/didn't understand Lynn's bond with her; but here that issue is solved - Lucy is no longer a child - and personally, I rather like Lucy and Lynn's mother/daughter/sister/best friend relationship, and how Lucy softens Lynn's edges. The relationship gets further explored in this novel, which makes In a Handful of Dust a brilliant companion to its predecessor.

In IaHoD, there's more action: Lynn fought to defend to her pond thoroughly in Not a Drop to Drink, but that's not half the danger they encounter while road tripping across the United States. There's more of that same frightening world: It's really wonderful to read more about the harsh landscapes and medical concerns (Mindy McGinnis has a.) done a lot of research; b.) made me wonder what's going on in her mind, ha). When I said that it reminded me of a YA The Road, that's because there is some seriously twisted stuff in this book. Creepy desperation made palpable through the water shortage. While The Road is all about the symbolism of the father/son relationship, In a Handful of Dust is about the reality that a post-apocalyptic family would indeed face during such a journey. The stakes of what it means to survive and what you have to do survive are very much increased in this companion novel. With the stakes raised, the character growth feels natural and very much well developed. Plus, Lucy is gentler than Lynn. Some of her inner conflict is different from some of Lynn's concerns in Not a Drop to Drink. These novels still feel rather unconventional in the YA dystopia crowd for their focus on day-to-day survival, and include their own humor to lighten some of the darker edges.

However, the issue I had with Not a Drop to Drink - the pacing - still remains present here. The pacing is perfect for the type of story being told (road trip/post-apocalyptic/bloody/action/dystopia) but again, it was still slow for me personally to read in between the segments of action, where the story was more focused on the smaller elements of the road trip. Also, there's less romance in In a Handful of Dust, which is unfortunate (for me), because I love romance and I particularly liked what Mindy McGinnis had done in Not a Drop to Drink on the romance front.

At the end of the day, I felt the same way about In a Handful of Dust as I did about Not a Drop to Drink, which is to say: a great book that I would recommend to people who love the wilderness and the scope of the settings in the Fire and Thorns trilogy; people who wanted less visceral, heart-pumping action from The Hunger Games and more focus on its survivalist aspects; people who enjoy the action in No Country for Old Men (the blood spatter! the hard choices! i.e. from Not a Drop to Drink: spending "every minute living working against dying"); people who find the author's description of Not a Drop to Drink as Little House on the Prairie on steroids or LHotP meets The Hunger Games appealing. And just as I said with Not a Drop to Drink: 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.


  1. Ooh great recommendation. I really need to start this series.

  2. Thanks, Julie! I hope you enjoy the Not a Drop to Drink duology.


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