In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink was a seminal book in 2014: a YA dystopian with no romance or overwrought heroine doing illogical or dangerous actions without consequence or care. Rather, we had two women surviving in a desperate day-to-day struggle with the understanding that one mistake would cost them their lives. So the question was – did there really need to be a sequel to the closed ended first book; and if so, what could it possibly be about? Rest assured, this is a sequel, yes, but it also propels the story further and completes a story arc only hinted in the first volume. It is just as good as the first book.


Story: 10 years after the events in book 1, Lucy has grown into a young woman and Lynne is still recalcitrant and guarded. But the two have a special bond, almost mother and daughter. When polio strikes their small settlement, it is believed Lucy may be a carrier and could infect/kill more people. When she is forced to leave, Lynn goes with her. They have a quest: to travel from Ohio to California and reach settlements with desalination plants along the coast. It will be a dangerous journey and both with learn quite a bit more about each other – for better and worse – along the way.

A grown Lucy provides a good foil for Lynn, her optimism and exuberance offset by Lynn’s deliberations and solitude. It’s a welcome parallel to the mother daughter relationship of Not a Drop to Drink.  It is a testament to an author’s skills that a completely new story can be written but still contain the core values and ideas of the first book.

Yes, this is a road story – a Damnation Alley without all the hooey or flesh eating cockroaches. As much an introspective piece as it is an observation on human nature; there are many different types of characters to be found on the road but the heart of the story is always with the two women. People introduced along their journey provide more insight into the relationship of Lynn and Lucy rather than having to be excuses for action or conflict. They are not deus ex machina in any way.

There are surprises along the way – twists of fate calmly and devastatingly enacted with pathos but also cold deliberation. I think that’s what I appreciate most about McGinnis’ two novels – these really are the antidote to the silliness and shallow glut of YA dystopian (and urban fantasy) that are so prevalent on the market today.

All the quiet intelligence and sublime storytelling are prominent in this second book in the series. From the way this ended, I can’t imagine how there could be a third book.  But then again, I never would have imagined there could be a second book and that it would be just as powerful and just as moving at the first.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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