Review: Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

May Contain Spoilers

This has been on my TBR list for a while, and when I saw that it was at the library, I borrowed it. I’ve read one other book by the author, Given to the Sea, and I still have mixed feelings about that one. The  world-building made for a repulsive setting, but the writing was compelling and I couldn’t put it down. Not a Drop to Drink also has a grim setting, but I enjoyed this book much better. It’s a tight, fast read, one I read in just two sittings. And the more I think about it, the more I liked it.

Lynn has spent her entire life protecting the pond on her property. Along with her mother, she mercilessly shoots anyone who dares to approach their water source. In a world with severe water shortages, water is everything. Because their pond is fed by spring snow melt and rain, a dry season is disastrous for them.

After her mother is killed in a terrible accident, Lynn is on her own. Taught to survive by her mother, she rides out her grief, and then gets back to the business of staying alive. It’s all she’s ever known. When Stebbs, the man who lives on the property next door, approaches her, her whole life changes. She doesn’t have to do this alone, and not every stranger is an enemy. But when a group of men sets up in a town nearby, Lynn is in danger of having everything she possesses stolen away from her.

I loved Lynn. She has no idea how to trust, and her mother’s paranoia has kept them both isolated. When Stebbs asks her to check on the people living near the stream, she reluctantly agrees to go and see if they are still there. If not, she’s to bring back whatever they have left behind, and split it with Stebbs, in payment of him watching the pond while she’s gone.

What Lynn finds is a small family struggling to survive in the wilderness. Starving, Eli, a boy about her age, begs her to take Lucy, a young girl, back with her. Lucy has a better chance of surviving with Lynn. Eli is struggling to keep his sister-in-law alive, and they don’t have enough food to go around. Reluctantly, Lynn agrees, and her whole outlook on life changes after this one, awkward encounter.

At first, Lynn, like her mother, is distrustful of strangers and possessive of what’s hers. Mainly the water in the pond. The water is life. Without the water, they would be dead. She jealously protects her water source, and has never felt remorse dropping intruders with her rifle. But after meeting Lucy and Eli, and after getting to know Stebbs, she starts to develop a conscience, and wonder if it’s really necessary to kill everyone who approaches the pond. She begins to understand the value of friends. And she starts to want better for Lucy than sitting on the roof, waiting to shoot the next person who steps foot on the property.

I wish there was more world-building, but like Lynn, the reader’s world view is extremely limited. With no electricity, no safety, and no guarantee of survival, defending what one has is everything. Not a Drop to Drink is a gritty tale of survival, and it was one I had a hard time putting down.

Grade: 4.25 stars

Review copy borrowed from my local library

About the book:

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.