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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Dry: A Novel


Dry, a new young adult novel by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, needs warning before you pick it up. It’s incredible, but also a little hard to swallow right now (pun completely intended) if you are aware of the effect of climate change on the Earth’s current water situation. It was so realistic it was painful at times. 

The Tap-Out, as it will be known for generations to come, was not entirely unexpected, but they were never really sure that it would actually come. After all, water has always seemed to be an unlimited resource. But the day the taps ran dry was the day that their worlds changed, and Alyssa was front and center to witness it all. She and her parents and little brother are just a little too late to the warehouse club to buy up water -- after all, how long could this really last? When her parents go to collect some from the desalination machines, they don't return. Alyssa, along with her brother and their survivalist neighbor (who just happens to be madly in love with Alyssa) have to get out of town before neighbors start killing each other. Their journey might take their lives, but they won't stop until they at least try to save them. 

This young adult novel was heavy, for sure. There were times when I felt my chest grow heavy and panic start to set in. I am quite concerned about the water issue; there is plenty of evidence leading to the conclusion that we, as an industrialized society, are running out of water. The conflicts in the middle east can be traced back to scarce water resources. After all, humans can't survive without it. It's incredibly frightening to me, and this book did not quell those fears. In fact, the Shustermans' story felt remarkably realistic, and that's what makes the book so outstanding yet so frightening. 

Researchers have a good understanding of why humans believe the crazy things that they do. We know, for example, that humans living in the Western world tend to overemphasize events that are statistically unlikely (especially if they are man-made) -- think stranger abductions. However, humans tend to ignore or underemphasize events that are statistically likely and dangerous -- think building homes in hurricane territory and staying even when warned to evacuate. It's cognitive bias at work. It's also a matter of ignoring things we can't control and overemphasizing things we can.

All of this to say that it's no surprise that many people don't take this seriously. All of the estimations that scientists have made about population growth, demographics, resource scarcity, and climate change have all changed drastically in the past decade -- and they are speeding up, not slowing down. Things will change much more quickly than we think. The Shustermans have captured this in their story. Kelton, Alyssa's neighbor, has grown up in a survivalist family, seems a little nutty at the beginning of the book, but boy was I grateful for him (and his regimented, authoritarian, conspiracy-nut father) by the end. The boy was prepared to n-th degree, and I'm not going to lie when I say that I am contemplating following suit.

Everything about this book -- the desperation of the neighbors, friends turning on each other, new alliances being formed, the government not doing anything to help while leading the people to think that they are -- every last thing felt true-to-life, and it left me shook. It was an outstanding book, and I can't recommend it more highly. Now I'm going to go build my home off the grid and I hope you have a nice day.

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