Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

The Blurb On The Back:

Everyone’s going to remember where they were when the taps ran dry.

The drought – or the tap-out, as everyone calls it – has been going on for a while.  Life has become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t take long showers, don’t panic.  But now there’s no water left at all.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation and violence.  When her parents go missing, she and her younger brother must team up with an unlikely group in search of water.  Each of them will need to make impossible choices to survive.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s June 4thin the very near future. 16-year-old Alyssa Morrow lives with her parents and 10-year-old brother Garrett in Southern California.  A drought has been going on for months and everyone’s used to the restrictions such as not watering your lawn and not taking long showers, but today it’s different: because today the water has run dry after Nevada and Arizona take the decision to block off the main dams that supply the state and preserve the water for themselves.

It isn’t long until the local stores have run out of bottles of water and soda and soon Alyssa’s family are reduced to storing water in the bath from bags of melted ice cubes. When the authorities announce a water distribution point will be set up, Alyssa’s parents decide to go and see what they can get … but don’t come back.

Helped by her geeky next-door-neighbour Kelton McCracken whose survivalist, prepper father is the only person in the neighbourhood ready for the tap-out, Alyssa and Garrett set out to find their parents but that tap-out has made Southern California a dangerous place filled with dangerous people and Alyssa, Kelton and Garrett will need to make impossible decisions and form alliances with people they’re not sure they can trust if they’re to survive …

Neal and Jarrod Shusterman’s near-future YA apocalyptic novel is a timely story that draws on a real-life, on-going water crisis and features some interesting characters (notably Jacqui, the hard-boiled borderline psychopath and Henry, a self-absorbed opportunist) and challenging situations but the plot strains at times while also being oddly cliché and I found the deus ex machina ending disappointing.

Alyssa and Kelton are fairly stock teen characters (Alyssa the soccer playing every girl who’s flirting with the idea of being a lawyer while Kelton’s the high-achieving nerd raised by preppers), but the Shustermans largely manage to elevate them by putting them through increasingly perilous situations as they have to deal with the water shortages, which makes them re-evaluate who they are.  This is particularly well done with Kelton who finds the crisis makes him focus on his view of his parents and in particular his father’s obsession with prepping and how that affects their relationship with their neighbours. Alyssa’s development comes from having her perceptions challenged as she takes responsibility for her brother Garrett while at the same time trying to work out what’s happened to their parents and what to do to weather out the crisis, which makes her question how ruthless she’s prepared to be.

To be honest though, I found Alyssa and Kelton less interesting that Jacqui and Henry who are each equally sociopathic in terms of their approach to the crisis – Jacqui by being focused on what she needs to do to survive while Henry is completely dedicated to using the crisis to maximise his own opportunities.  I enjoyed the scenes told from their points of view because they are so hard-nosed about how they treat the crisis and view Alyssa and Kelton in terms of what they can do for them and how long they need them for.

The star of the show though is the crisis itself. The Shustermans, of necessity, have to truncate the timescale here but the depiction of the reaction to the crisis feels very real as people become increasingly desperate and the authorities struggle to react in a timely way.  I particularly liked the way they peppered the story with snippets from random characters to show the scale of the disaster.  There are echoes here of real world disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the recent California wildfires, which gives the novel a frightening topicality that heightens the sense of danger for the characters and their families.

Unfortunately the plot itself is quite predictable with the Shustermans hitting all the developments and roadblocks and crises that you’d expect in a story of this type.  There were also a couple of scenes that really didn’t work for me – one relates to a character death that was so obviously intended to be emotionally manipulative that it left me cold (the more so because a character most affected by it barely mentions it for several chapters) and then the ending has a real deus ex machina twist that completely robbed it of the tension and drama that it should have carried and left me very disappointed.  Finally, I felt that one of the characters had their fate left a little too open and I wanted more information on what happened to them given the last scene the Shustermans given them.

Ultimately there are things that I did enjoy about the book and I think that the timing is perfect given how concerned people are becoming about climate change and what it means for people but the story itself was a little disappointing and it just didn’t quite come together well enough for me.

DRY was released in the United Kingdom on 4th October 2018.  Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book.

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