“Used to be no one much knew or cared where our water came from. It was just there. But when the Central Valley started to dry up and the price of produce skyrocketed, people started to pay attention” (13).

Dry (2018), a dystopian novel by Neal and Jarod Shusterman, imagines the chaotic atmosphere in California during an extreme drought referred to as the “Tap-Out.” As a result of severe dehydration, people begin to change into “water-zombies.” Water-zombies manage to stay alive despite losing extreme amounts of body water, but they seem to lose humanity and resort to ruthless behaviors such as looting, bullying, violence, and crime in order to get water. After 16-year-old Alyssa’s parents go to find water from desalination plants, Alyssa and her 10-year-old brother Garrett must try to survive with the help of their neighbor and Alyssa’s classmate, Kelton, and fellow teen survivors Jacqui and Henry. Despite the Tap-Out only lasting 6 days before water is restored, the novel depicts severe social breakdown and issues such as sexual abuse, torture, blocked highways, evacuation centres full of quarantined water-zombies waiting for rescue helicopters, and mishandling of the situation by the government.

Dry uses the framework of climate fiction to highlight the substantive consequences of an extreme weather event through the example of the “Tap-Out.” The novel demonstrates the potential harsh ramifications of climate change on physical and mental health in addition to the deterioration of social order when resources are mishandled. Despite the moderate “happy ending” with the return of Alyssa and her friends to home safely, the book depicts thousands of deaths from dehydration, brutality, and chaos—inspiring readers to consider the social ethics involved in distributing limited water sources. The novel explores the transformation of human beings into water zombies and the social disorder resulting from climate change through the perspective of young adult characters so that young readers can share the character’s feelings and experience more connected to the novel’s alarming events.

©2024 ClimateLit (Öznur Cengiz Çeliker)

Check out the publisher’s website for a reading group guide: https://www.simonandschuster.net/books/Dry/Neal-Shusterman/9781481481977

Publisher: Walker Books, 2018

Pages: 416

ISBN: 9781406386851

Audience: Rebels (14-older)

Format: Novels

Topics: Apocalypse, Climate Change, Climate Fiction, Climate Justice, Drought, Dystopia, Extreme Weather Events, Water Crisis