Book Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to DrinkNot a Drop to Drink
Mindy McGinnis
Katherine Tegen Books, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-219850-1

From the publisher—

Teenage Lynn has been taught to defend her pond against every threat: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most important, 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. But when strangers appear, the mysterious footprints by the pond, the nighttime threats, and the gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it. . . .

Getting around to writing this review has taken me far too long; the only excuse I have, and it’s real, is that I was so drained by it (in a good way) and, even today, find it difficult to express myself well.

What struck me most was the desolation, not only physical but emotional. It seemed that 16-year-old Lynn had little or nothing to live for and, yet, her mother tried so hard to instill in Lynn an appreciation of the things that society in general had lost by teaching her to read and write, to love poetry. She also taught her daughter the realities of survival, to have a healthy fear of others who would gladly kill them for food, possessions and, most of all, water.

How sad is it, then, to realize that, in her childhood, Lynn had never spoken to anyone except her mother, had never heard a man speak her name before Stebbs, the one man who lived nearby and had never harmed them. He had come to them when he was hurt and she was 6 years old. Now Lynn thinks they could have a partnership and she needs that because coyotes killed her mother after Lynn accidentally shot her in the leg trying to protect her from the raiding animals. One big coyote is pack leader and he is as important to this story as any of the humans.

Stebbs is emotional about Mother’s death—maybe he loved her? She had come to him when Lynn was a baby to join forces but he turned her away, said he could only be responsible for himself. The rejection made her hard and she rejected him when he tried to stay after getting hurt. Stebbs is a man with secrets and contradictions but also a man who seems to care in his own way.

Then there are other people, specifically Streamers—people living near a stream, with no evidence they have guns, who don’t know any better than to burn green wood, who are not moving on before winter. These are probably city people with no buckets so they can’t leave the stream. Stebbs and Lynn agree he’ll watch the pond while she investigates their camp when there’s been no smoke for two days and Lynn finds Lucy, Eli and Neva. Neva is Lucy’s mom, Eli is 16 and is Neva’s brother-in-law, Lucy is 5. The family had tried to escape the city, Entargo, because Neva was pregnant and a second child is illegal but her husband was shot. The three are living by the stream in a brush shelter and Lynn and Stebbs must decide how they’ll handle this situation. The Streamers are in desperate straits but to take them in could be a true burden.

Then they discover that people to the south, already known as deadly and cruel, will play a crucial role in their lives and their future, shaky as it might be. Heartbreak is coming but Lynn is also going to learn that people need to help each other if humanity is to survive with any sense of decency.

The setting for Not a Drop to Drink is Ohio, not far from Lake Erie. The Second War for Oil has led to all the devastation and the water shortage as well as the destruction of the society Lynn’s mother and others of her generation had known. Ms. McGinnis built her world so well that I could easily visualize their surroundings (especially when they would go to the roof) but her characters stood out, every one of them down to an elderly coyote. Lynn herself is a mass of conflicting ideas and emotions and watching her on the path to maturity is worth every turn of the page.

As a devotee of post-apocalyptic fiction, I have a mental file of the very best—Not a Drop to Drink is one of them and I’ll be continuing with Lynn’s story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2015.