In a Handful of Dust
by Mindy McGinnis
Published on September 23rd, 2013
by Katherine Tegen Books
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Young Adult
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The only thing bigger than the world is fear.
Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.
When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.
In this companion to Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis thrillingly combines the heart-swelling hope of a journey, the challenges of establishing your own place in the world, and the gripping physical danger of nature in a futuristic frontier.
Last year I read and I really enjoyed Not a Drop to Drink, BUT the ending was too open ended for me so I was so happy when I found out its companion novel, In a Handful of Dust. It is not exactly a sequel, but rather Lucy’s story.
McGinnis story makes you think, what would happen if one day water didn’t come down the pipes? How would you live? What would you be willing to do for it? What if there was no electricity, no grocery stores, no internet, no postal service, no cars? I don’t know about you, but I don’t care to find out. I do know that I would probably do whatever it takes to take care of my children.
This time, Lucy is now our narrator. She was raised by Lynn to be self-sufficient, but not in the same manner that she herself was raised. She is gentler, curious, less pragmatic and full of plans and hope. Lucy grew up in a close community, with more people around that are used to help each other. However, her way of life is threated when a polio outbreak starts attacking their members. Thus, Lucy and Lynn leave together in search of a better place.
“Lynn smiled, but it was the one, slow and sad, that always came with talk of Mother, “She taught me what she knew. So has Stebbs, He told me once that people like me and him are badly built for times like this, when there’s nothing we can do.”
“You need an enemy,” Lucy said, understanding immediately.
“I do. And when it’s a sickness, I guess the best weapon I’ve got is the fire for the bodies.”
Lynn is no longer a teenager, but a woman of 26 in this book. I don’t know if it was because I’m more used to Lynn, but I identify with her better than with Lucy. Lynn is still practical, great at survival, a hard worker, slow to trust others and ready to believe the worst in others. Maybe in contrast to her personality, she’s known for quoting poetry.
Both girls learn a lot about each other and complement each other well. Their relationship is that of mother and daughter, but also of friends. No one would call Lynn warm or affectionate, but she does love Lucy and will gladly die for her without thinking twice. Their banter is a precious treat as Lynn is not a bit talker.
There are a lot more characters in this book, all strangers meet in their LONG, LONG trip. Some are bad, some are even worse and then, there’s Fletcher. I liked him a whole lot and I was very sad to see him go. I wished that there would have been more time to get to know him better. *hint*
“I was just wondering when you were going to tell me your foot was in such a shape,” Lynn said, without looking up.
“Didn’t want to bother you,” Lucy answered, pulling her naked foot back under the blanket, “It’s not a big deal.”
“It will be if it gets infected. I don’t like the idea of cutting your foot off and then having to haul your ass to West Coast.”
“I don’t think I’d like the cutting-my-foot-off part,” Lucy said. “But anytime you want to carry me is fine.”
The setting of Not a Drop to Drink was very limited, it only covered a few mile radius, as Lynn was always afraid to go far from her house and her pond. Here, Lynn and Lucy embark on an adventure, from their beloved pond all the way to California. It is a road trip of the worst kind, they have to be cautious all the time, prepared for anything and some awful things happen. But don’t despair, not everything is bad.
The writing is again evocative, spare, and direct. Very fitting for the type of story and to her character’s personality. This is a different kind of dystopian, more direct and realistic and it doesn’t take place in a distant future.
Overall In a Handful of Dust is just as brutal as the first book. The ending is – again – too open ended for my taste. I would love, at least a short story to help me with closure. I need to know.
About the cover: I like both covers of these books. They both give a sense of aloneness and desolation, and the contrast in colors, light and shadow is so artistic.