Genre: YA Dystopian
Publisher: Walker Books
Release Date: 2nd October 2019
Author Website: Neal Shusterman
When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival,
The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.
Until the taps run dry.
Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.
I don’t know why I’m drawn to reading dystopias when I can just as easily turn on the news right now, but hey – at least the book eventually ends. I would very much like to flick to the end of this whole chapter we’ve got going on right now but we’ve got to keep taking things page by page, I guess.
Contrary to life currently, this book wasn’t a slog! I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time reading.
We have four protagonists in this story who each have chapters from their perspectives and I think the Shustermans did a really good job of keeping their voices distinct and different from one another, which is difficult given the short length of some of the chapters. At times you’re only given a couple of pages from inside one person’s head before you’re in another, but it never felt jarring. Their personalities came through in each of their chapters.
With this in mind, however, it did take me a little while to get to like each of the characters. To begin with, I wasn’t connecting to them and was reading more for the plot, caring about the drought a lot more than what it was doing to the characters as individuals. However, the more time I spent with them, and the more they found themselves adapting and reacting to their new reality, I really felt for them.
“There are basically two kinds of preppers. First are the ones like me and my family. We arm ourselves and stock up, but only to protect ourselves from the chaos. Then there are the ones that bring the chaos.”
Kelton comes to mind as a character who grew on me the most. He is the youngest son of a survivalist family who have been preparing for the end of the world ever since he can remember. He’s nerdy and practical and his chapters at the beginning are quite cringey. I found myself getting second-hand embarrassment for him a lot, and rolling my eyes at the obvious crush he has on his next door neighbour and fellow protagonist, Alyssa. He has a very I’ll-never-understand-girls, girls-are-a-different-species kind of vibe.
However, over the course of the book his superior doomsday-ready authority really falls away and we get to see him have to face his vulnerability. It’s this that made him feel much more realistic and less like the stock character of nerd with a crush on the girl next door. He acknowledges his own contradictions and that of his family, and by the end, I actually really liked him.
“I remember hearing somewhere that the human mind can only hold three things in conscious thought at any given time. And if I fill up all three spaces, I won’t think about how thirsty I am.”
Alyssa, again followed the same sort of pattern. With her parents missing, she is left responsible for her little brother’s safety as well as her own, and it’s this relationship that made me warm to her that bit quicker. She does what she has to do to survive, though not without guilt and internal conflict. Out of all of the other characters, she is the closest to the kind of person I would be in a Dry-esque situation (though I doubt I’d make it past the first third of the book).
“The Tap-Out has not only contributed to my growth as a person, but has proven to be a fantastic learning experience in business and commerce.”
Henry is a boy Alyssa and Kelton find blissfully unaware of the extent of the drought and using his supply of water as currency to extort the people in his affluent neighbourhood out of their most expensive possessions. I think Henry was my favourite character just because of the way he was written. He’s cowardly and sly and weak but he’s also smart, and he knows it. He’s a real character you love to hate, then kind of start to just love him. I think that’s an unpopular opinion but I’m owning it. He’s terrible. I love it.
“It’s a powerful feeling – daring the universe to end you.”
Jacqui is introduced fairly early in the book, saving Alyssa and Kelton from a dangerous situation just after Alyssa has found out her parents are missing. She is a tough nineteen year-old with wicked street smarts, who breaks into rich people’s beach houses to stay in for days at a time. When we meet her, she has a nasty wound on her arm from doing just this, and is lured to join the cast by the promise of antibiotics. My main issue with Jacqui was that the writing tried very hard to make sure we knew she was quirky and badass, to the point where she leaves cheeky notes for the owners of the houses she breaks into on Hello Kitty stationary and peppers in allusions to stunts she’s pulled in the past that just made me roll my eyes.
I’d have liked her character a lot more if she her characterisation wasn’t so heavy-handed. And if this was done intentionally by the Jacqui in her narration (as it written in first-person), then I wish the reasoning behind why she acted so tough was explored more. That said, I grew to like her by the end and was rooting for her like the others.
“There are dozens of them laying in the sand around us, creating an eerie eight-bit symphony. The lost calls of a thousand souls.”
The plot of Dry is really compelling and a great setting for a flash of a dystopian story, where characters are suddenly and completely thrust into a high-stakes, highly-charged world. In such a tiny space of time, martial law is enacted, people are herded into evacuation camps, the shelves at supermarkets are empty, and the government is doing its level best to do nothing of use at all. Does anyone… does this sound familiar?
The psychological impacts of such an abrupt change was interesting. I could pick out the kinds of people I’ve come across during the peak of the virus in my area – those who will take flour out of your trolley, the people you usually smile at pretending they didn’t just take the last pack of toilet rolls, and the people who are determined to help in any way they can. It was… an experience to see that in a book written two years ago, when COVID-19 didn’t even exist and you didn’t have to psyche yourself up for 24 hours before going to Sainsburys.
A critique I’ve found about Dry is the ending, and how quickly it was reached. Without spoilers, I’ll say that I personally really liked it. This isn’t a very long book and I think that is part of its appeal. The nature of dehydration allows for tension and extreme danger to build up and come to a climax very quickly, so it makes sense for the story to only take place over a few days. It was a nice change of pace from dystopian stories that deal with a complete disintegration of society and the slow rebuild (ie The Stand), instead giving us a relatively quick survival story with a small core cast.
I also think that this element makes it much more accessible to the younger readers in the YA category, as long as they/you are able to handle the subject matter. It isn’t massively violent, with more allusions to off-page violence than graphic description.
IF YOU LIKE:
- Dystopian stories with a suburban setting
- Watching the disintegration of characters’ psyches (me too, it’s okay)
- Small casts
- Interesting character development (in some cases)
- Survival narratives
Then this is the book for you!
IF YOU DON’T LIKE:
- Quick endings/resolutions
- Triggers: murder, violence, attempted sexual assault, sex trafficking (off-page, small mention)
If you’re affected by these, maybe give this book a bit more thought before going into it.
Have you read Dry or think you might pick it up? Let me know and we can chat!