Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review: Dry by Neal Shusterman, and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry by Neal Shusterman, and Jarrod Shusterman

Hardcover, 390 pages

Published October 2nd 2018 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

I am on record as saying that the movement for Cli-fi fiction is the most important fiction movement we have going. So in an effort to put my eyes where my mouth is I am reading lots of climate fiction from this year. In that effort I saw lots of buzz about this YA novel called Dry. Adults don't be scared away from this book. Yes compared to the *finger under nose* high lit novel I just read and reviewed this is a simple story with young adult motivations. I am sure that will annoy many of us adult readers. Teenagers can come off as annoying to adults in fiction but that often happens when they are written accurately. I give the authors credit for putting a focus on young readers because ultimately they are the next generation and getting them to care about Climate action is important.

I knew nothing but the title and that it is about Climate change before digging in. This book is as much Climate horror as it is Cli-fi. Once I dug into the plot I was very excited by the concept. This novel takes place mostly in Orange County south of LA during an event called the great Tap-Out. Early in the novel Arizona and Nevada decide to turn off the water coming from the Colorado river. In this sense it is like a YA successor to Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife. That book dealt with the political aspects of the river and the management of it.

This novel is about the tap and fresh water being shut down for Southern California. This is a great set-up for a survival story and that is what is at the heart of this story. A group of teenagers cut off from their parents as well as the most basic aspect of life - water fight for survival. The authors have constructed a tightly plotted story with fully realized characters in this environment.

The story cuts between five survivors but most of the pages center around Alyssa and the neighbor Kelton who has had a crush on her. Both teenagers are typical when suddenly the water is gone. This is quite a change of lifestyle for the characters and in 350 pages we feel like we have gone on a journey.

It is impossible to read this book and not get the message that our place in the ecosystem here in southern California is delicate. To someone one not familiar with these issues it might seem the authors are over-blowing this crisis. The reality one of the most tightly populated parts of our country depends mostly on one river. I am very aware of this because of the research I did for my latest novel also a southern California Cli-fi novel Ring of Fire.

Look I really, really dug this novel but that is partly because it is somewhat of a spiritual cousin to my novel. While Dry takes place in The OC and mine in San Diego so much of the themes are similar. Dry is more tightly focused on the water issue, and has no supernatural/ more out there Sci-fi elements. None the less I think the two books compliment each other in message, geography and bleak fight for survival.

Is it perfect? I loved it enough to give it five stars but I had little problems. Anyone who reads my reviews knows I am not a huge fan of first person narrative. In this case where the POV shifts the first person style made even less sense. Without spoilers I also think the epilogue undercuts the power of the 350 pages before it. I think the authors blinked like Speilberg did in his War of the Worlds.

None the less I think all the good far outweighs my tiny nitpicks. Dry is an effective horror novel, YA or not it is an important novel for our time. It deserves to be on the shelf next to eco-horror classics like The Sheep Look Up. The novel does all the things it is supposed to do in telling a story, but the bottom line is you will be haunted by this book when you close it for the last time. The reason is it will be impossible to read this book and not think about what Water means. You can't turn on the tap ever again without it being there somewhere in your mind.

This book should be read.

1 comment:


Fantastic review. I will send link to @nealshusterman on Twitter.