Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies's Reviews > Not a Drop to Drink

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
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bookshelves: ya, romance, kick-ass-heroine, dystopian

Actual rating: 3.5
“Do you want to die like this?” Mother had asked that night and every night since then.
Lynn’s answer never changed. “No.”
And Mother’s response, their evening prayer. “Then you will have to kill.”
A YA dystopian with beautiful stark writing and a strong female lead that got gradually worse the further one gets into the book. The book started off so well, but got impeded by a needless romance and a very strong heroine who grew increasingly insipid. The world building was vague, but the setting was so well-depicted that it didn't decrease my enjoyment.

The first 25% of this book felt a lot like reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The beginning was absolutely gripping. We are plunged into a dystopian world, whose background is vague, but where one thing is abundantly made clear: this is a fight for survival, and water is the key. Lynn lives with her mother Lauren on their little farm, with a precious pond of water, which they desperately protect. This is not too far from the distant future, up until around 15-20 years ago, water still ran free from faucets, but since then, something has gone wrong, and it has become a valuable commodity. The human body can go without food for a long time, but not without water, and a slow death from thirst is not a pleasant one. To defend their land, to protect their water, their lifeline, Lauren and Lynn have to kill. It is a literal matter of life or death.
Years before, Mother had shown her pictures of the thirsty dead. Their skin hung from their bones like the wallpaper that sloughed from the walls in the unused upstairs hallway. Swollen tongues were forced past lips cracked and bleeding. Eyes sunk so deeply into sockets that the outline of the skulls was evident.
It is a hard life for a 16 year old. Lynn has killed, she has hunted animals for food, she harvests her small farm's crops, she has to haul in and purify the water. She spends hours sniping invaders from the rooftops of her home. There is no such thing as a break. The first 25% of the book is so brilliantly, sparsely written. The reader feels the urgency of the situation as Lynn and her mother battle out every day for survival, living under a state of constant alert, wary to any change, any sudden sounds that will warn them that a potential threat to their existence is approaching.

This is a somewhat frustrating review to write because there is a lot going in the book, and there is no way for me to summarize the book or to go into details with the plot or characters without spoiling it, so I'll leave it with this short summary: shit happens, and some new people come into Lynn's organized, strict existence. And that's where things went wrong for me.

The Plot
Overall, quite well done. The beginning and the end are incredible, action-packed...which makes the middle half seem so out of place. The middle half of the book felt completely complacent compared to the rest of the book; the survival aspect of it was very much diminished, replaced with a lot of emotional feeeeeeeels and bonding and happy cuddly moments that doesn't seem consistent with the overall theme of the book.

The Setting
One of the better dystopian settings I've encountered. This is due to the fact that the setting itself is centered around such a small area of Lynn's existence, in a very rural farm. The setting is limited enough so that we get a good feeling for the environment without being overwhelmed with a complex world-building that, in the case of YA, oftentimes shoots itself in the foot. They live on a large, rural plot of land, with one close neighbor (Stebbs) with whom they share a peaceful, but wary existence. They keep an eye on each other, and their peace is tenuous. They are surrounded by forests, stream, wildlife. It is a perfect setting for a nature-based survival story, and I devoured it.

The world building and background is vague, but in this instance, that's not a problem for me. We don't find out much about the setting until it is told to us through conversation over halfway into the novel. I did get a little frustrated at times, but the story itself is compelling enough in its fight for survival that I felt like the background was something that didn't require so much detail. In that sense, the plot holes in the background, and the fact that is is left deliberately unclear is not intolerable. The setting is small enough so that any large, complicated setup for a dystopian future would have felt widely out of place.

There are bits and pieces of science that were completely ludicrous to anyone with more than an elementary knowledge, for instance, the sterilization of water using exposure to normal UV light (AKA weak sunlight). No. It doesn't work that way. Also, there was a scene in the book where a medical doctor tries to cool down a high fever by plunging a child into a freezing body of water. No. Absolutely not. Any reputable doctor would know better than that. But again, I'm nitpicking, and these inconsistencies are minor enough not to bother me too much.

The Characters
I loved Lauren and Lynn. Lauren is Lynn's mother. She remembers the time when things were normal, when water ran freely from faucets. She has an English degree, which is rendered completely useless right now, except as a tool for educating her daughter Lynn when time allows for it. Lauren is tough. She has killed before, she will kill again, and she has taught her daughter to do the same. It's not meaningless, they have to live, and if they don't kill the invaders, others will kill them. There is a small question regarding her morals and her trigger-happy fingers, but I prefer to think of it as a mother hen defending her chick.

Lauren did not raise an idiot. She taught Lynn everything she knows, and that has made Lynn into a very, very competent 16 year old. She kills when she needs to, Lynn is absolutely unflinching in that sense, and I loved her for it. She makes some tough, truly heart-breaking decisions, but I never got to mourn for her or feel sorry for her, because she does it so matter-of-factly. I admire her for that. She makes tough decisions, and she never second-guesses herself, or regret the fact afterwards. Which makes it all the more mind-boggling that she acts so out of character when she meets the child, Lucy.

I hate, hate, hate the random insertion of a stupid child in the novel to prove that the main character has a heart. Lynn acts completely inconsistently when she chooses to more or less adopt Lucy. It makes no fucking sense. Lynn is out for survival. Survival is best when you are not bogged down with a kid, so why the fuck does she develop a soft heart when it's most inconvenient? Lucy is also an inconsistent character, she does not act like a 5-year old. She is too mature at times, and she acts her age at times, which is best described as annoying and stupid. But then again, I hate kids, and I hate children as a plot device, so it might work for some readers.

I loved the gradual development of a paternal-type of relationship with her neighbor, Stebbs. Their relationship grew from an uneasy one, at best, to one that is more complex than either would have initially guessed.

The Romance
It wasn't terrible, as dystopian romances go. I wouldn't call it insta-love, because it took a few meetings before the really heavy feels started coming into play, but it really didn't do it for me. It is somewhat understandable that Lynn falls for a cute boy, since she is so isolated living in the middle of nowhere with her mom, that really, any boy would be attractive to a 16-year old girl with the incoming surge of adolescent hormones, but Eli just doesn't seem worthy of Lynn's attention He is a city boy, he grew up in a safe, economically sound home that can afford to pay for water and the comforts of city living. He has never known need in his life until now. He can barely protect himself, he does not know how to survive at all, and in fact, he and his family nearly died until Lynn comes to their rescue. It makes no sense that Lynn would fall for such a soft boy, such a weak, inferior specimen of what passes for masculinity.

Overall, the beginning and end of the book compensated for the weaknesses towards the middle of the novel. This book is unwavering in its gritty portrayal of survival, and I highly recommend it for fans of a well-written survival-based dystopia.
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Reading Progress

May 2, 2013 – Shelved
May 2, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
October 3, 2013 – Shelved as: ya
October 3, 2013 – Shelved as: romance
October 3, 2013 – Shelved as: kick-ass-heroine
October 3, 2013 – Shelved as: dystopian
October 3, 2013 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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Rashika (is tired) I don't mind children being used as a plot device as long as they are done in the 'right' way. So many times authors just tend to... mess it up.

I got over my dystopian obsession a while ago so I am not particularly excited to read this book but... I like survival stories and a strong female lead always helps :)

Although what you said about the romance bothers me a little. It seems as though the romance was there only for the sake of it because from what you said, it doesn't make sense. Although you could look at in the bad girl good boy thing, the reverse of the usual YA situations which involve bad boys and good girls.

Awesome review Khanh :)


message 2: by Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies (last edited Oct 04, 2013 01:48AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Rashika wrote: "I don't mind children being used as a plot device as long as they are done in the 'right' way. So many times authors just tend to... mess it up.

I got over my dystopian obsession a while ago so I ..."


I think this is my 3rd or 4th dystopian in which the otherwise competent MC adopts a little kid DESPITE THE FACT THAT SHE'S SURVIVAL ORIENTED. It doesn't make any sense! Usually the MCs are so rational, so competent...and the kid is just an albatross around their neck, or otherwise the child acts way too mature to be an even believable child.

Grumpy Khanh is evil. Grumpy Khanh hates kids.


message 3: by Ash Wednesday (last edited Oct 04, 2013 02:35AM) (new) - added it

Ash Wednesday emotional feeeeeeeels and bonding and happy cuddly moments

Never really fits with dystopians I think (which was cleverly circumvented in HG) because I can't really imagine people thinking about that when you're too busy surviving. It's a tricky one.

Also +1 on the spotting the mis-science.

Great review.

Edited to clarify and because I sometimes forget my manners :p


Rashika (is tired) What??? Which other dystopian books have ppl adopting kids? I must avoid them in that case.

I know what you mean. It contradicts the character and then it just gets on your nerves. Kind of like those supposed strong female leads that melt into goo when the love interest steps in :P
(You'll see a pattern soon enough and realize that that is my number one pet peeve :P)


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Rashika wrote: "What??? Which other dystopian books have ppl adopting kids? I must avoid them in that case.

I know what you mean. It contradicts the character and then it just gets on your nerves. Kind of like th..."


Off the top of my head, In the After. But a lot of other dystopian and post-apo books have teens taking care of really unrealistic kids too.


Andrea ❤Ninja Bunneh❤ This is one book I was so on the fence about in whether I enjoyed it or not. It's kind of I could live with or without it, didn't matter. Great review Khanh!


message 7: by Jade (new)

Jade McCahon I just wanted to raise a little baby finger here, disregard the rest of this review, and bitch that in fact, I was plunged into a cold bath full of ice and freezing water during a hospital stay for a high fever when I was four years old. Yes, it was cray. But then it was rural Missouri...that might have had something to do with it...hmmmm...


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Jade wrote: "I just wanted to raise a little baby finger here, disregard the rest of this review, and bitch that in fact, I was plunged into a cold bath full of ice and freezing water during a hospital stay for..."

Oh, man! It might have been a particularly painful experience if you remember it until now.


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies JennyJen wrote: "Another dystopian that adds an orphaned kid in for no reason at all? That alone makes me want to take this off my tbr list. I am so sick and tired of that trope."

Me too. So many fucking dystopians features kids who tag along. It boggles my mind.


message 10: by Summer (new)

Summer I don't understand- why does every ya dystopia (in my experience) have to have a shitty romance? Well, at least this one seems better than others.


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Summer wrote: "I don't understand- why does every ya dystopia (in my experience) have to have a shitty romance? Well, at least this one seems better than others."

Because writers somehow think their main female reading audience LUUUUURVES ROMANCE IN EVERY BOOK. Sigh. You're right, at least this one was a little less painful than most.


message 12: by Basuhi (new)

Basuhi Is it just me being ignorant or have you written many reviews without me knowing about them, Khanh ?
How do you read so fast ?! Since dystopia is just not my genre, I guess I'll skip this one even thought it seems pretty good.

@ Summer : Romance must be minimized where it isn't necessary. One thing THG excelled in was its portrayal of romance - something that is not all combustibly-consuming but a simple steady warmth.


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Basuhi wrote: "Is it just me being ignorant or have you written many reviews without me knowing about them, Khanh ?
How do you read so fast ?! Since dystopia is just not my genre, I guess I'll skip this one even..."


Basuhi, I've written my fair share but I've only really started them seriously this year as practice to keep my writing skills in shape. I read super fast, always have. I started reading when I was 4 and never stopped :)


message 14: by Basuhi (new)

Basuhi That explains it. I started reading 2-3 years back and have started reviewing seriously only since this May ! I've been slogging a book for weeks now :/


Kevin I 5 starred this, loved it, but your review is AMAZING. Spot on!


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies Glad you liked it, Kevin. I would have loved this if not for the romance.


message 17: by Leslie (new) - added it

Leslie God, your reviews are amazing! This looks good and so different!! I can only hope for this kind of well executed review...wow.


Ioana I'm reading this now and read the start of your review, up until "..more". I'm afraid you're very right, which makes me sad. Start of the book was fabulous, such strong characters, but I can definitely tell Lynn's slipping.


Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies IMO the latter parts of the book redeemed itself =) Read on!


Ioana I just finished it...my feels!


message 22: by Annabelle (new) - added it

Annabelle Blume Just to nit pick, icing is, in fact, sound medical science when a child is suffering from a febrile seizure.


Laurie Brumbaugh I know I'm late to this review. I just finished the book. Also just wanted to point out that people in developing countries do indeed use the water purification method described in the book: http://www.sodis.ch/methode/index_EN


Tracy (Cornerfolds) I actually agree with you about Lucy. It's frustrating to see such a badass character adopt a child, completely out of character, because "that's what women do." :/


Rebecca I'm really late to this particular book and review, but the science here is actually NOT BS. You might want to revise your review or at least write in an edit. The water purification method used in the book is actually what is used in developing countries without access to clean water. Also, plunging a kid into an ice bath is actually an acceptable last resort to stop a febrile seizure...while obviously we don't do it with modern medicine and hospital care, they had limited options and IMMEDIATE lowering of temperature is needed, otherwise there would be brain damage.

The author included some more snippets in more recent editions of the book where she mentions her extensive research into all things water, including the SODIS method of purification (you can look it up yourself). So while you're nitpicking what you see as bad science that supposedly anyone with an understanding of science would recognize as bad science...well, hate to say it, but you might want to do your own research first before you end up looking ridiculous for calling out the author when she's right.


Rebecca Forgot to add that SODIS is short for solar water disinfection, a method recommended by WHO, UNICEF, the Red Cross, etc. The part where you can probably criticize the author on is that chlorination is an easier and probably more effective way of disinfecting water, and since Lynn and Lauren go scavenging things from abandoned houses in the book, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't have found many gallons of household bleach. A single gallon of bleach would treat quite a bit of water. Also, technically it didn't seem like they had THAT much of a shortage of fuel/ability to boil water. I feel like while Lauren might have remembered SODIS from a National Geographic article (which is how the author learned about it), the average educated person would be more familiar with bleach or boiling, and there's no explanation of why they didn't do either. Boiling that much water was probably unfeasible but still, the author could've pointed that out in a couple of sentences just to explain why they stuck to SODIS...like maybe they did use bleach but ran out or whatever.


arielle This is pointless but yes, you can quickly drop a person's body temp by submerging them in an ice bath. Especially in ill children (Lucy's character didn't have a flu or cold, she had a bacterial infection) it is incredibly important to lower the core body temp to keep the body from causing permanent nerve or brain damage and in the absence of modern medical equipment an icy lake would probably be the only option.


arielle @rebecca, I think she went with UV light instead of boiling because, since UV is technically radiation, it destroys more bacteria than boiling.


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