Review: In A Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

August 12, 2014

Title: In A Handful of Dust
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Genre: YA, Post Apocalyptic
Source: Publisher (Edelweiss)
Amazon Goodreads TBD
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.
This book is such brilliant work! I didn't think I could admire Lynn anymore than I already did, but Mindy McGinnis, thank you for proving me wrong! Lucy, on the other hand... Hmm...

First of all, In A Handful of Dust is not really a sequel to Not A Drop to Drink, as it is not Lynn's story. It's Lucy's. It's set in a different time, with Lucy all grown up, so even if you haven't read Not A Drop to Drink (I highly recommend you do, though), you wont feel too much out of your depth with In A Handful of Dust.

Polio attacks the little community that Lynn & Lucy live in with their friends. The first to fall is Lucy's best friend Maddy, the hardship she endures a portent of the nightmarish wave that is about the sweep through. When Vera (Lucy's grandmother) comes to the conclusion that the carriers are most probably Carter (Maddy's brother) and/or Lucy, who were with Maddy when she fell ill, both she and Carter are forced to leave their little settlement (although Vera's gut tells her Lucy is not the carrier). Lucy sets out with Lynn to California, where they've heard that water is plentiful owing to desalination plants. And so they set out on an incredible journey that takes them across the country, in the course of which both Lucy & Lynn discover things about themselves they never thought they would.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Lynn is one kickass woman. It's so gratifying to see how Lynn has grown as a person in the time since Not A Drop to Drink. It almost feels like she's modeled after her mother, but a slightly less uptight version. She may not be free with expressions of love, but what she feels for Lucy shines through her every act, and when it comes down to it, the entire book revolves around exactly that.

Although surprising (I didn't expect her to stick it out to a sequel), I have to commend McGinnis' continued abstinence from incorporating a significant romantic figure into her characters' lives. It was a bold move, and I realise the courage it must have taken to do so, and I love that she did not compromise on the quality of her story just so she could conform to the expected norm. Although Carter & Lucy used to share, well... something, it was a fledgling relationship that gets cut off too soon, so I dont really count him as a 'significant' romantic figure, although he does play an important role in the story, inspite of his absence for most of it.

It's been about a few months since I finished In A Handful of Dust, and I'm still not all that sure about what I think of Lucy. It's not that I didn't like her. I did. She's spunky, upbeat and has a virtually unwavering sense of optimism. But there were times when her naivete just got to me, and her immaturity made me so mad at the way she treated Lynn, especially when it's so obvious what all Lynn has done so Lucy can be the way she is today. But however undecided I may be, I need to say that Lucy is one girl who knows her mind and isn't afraid to go after what she wants or stand up for it either. That's a long description, but that's pretty much exactly what Lucy does. Setting aside my misgivings about her, I am proud of the person she's grown up to be.

Like I mentioned earlier, the spotlight is squarely on Lynn and Lucy in In A Handful of Dust, but that is not to say there is a dearth of secondary characters. There are plenty, and although they all come and go fleetingly, they each have lasting effects on the duo's journey, and the impression they leave in our minds are not quick to fade. Also noteworthy is the world building in this book. Lynn and Lucy travel from one end of the United States to the other on foot, and McGinnis has brought to live the varied landscape that they travel through. I loved how I could almost feel the flat plains, the dry, caked, rock mountains and the boiling desert. The point in the story where the reader realises the meaning behind the title is written in so stark and raw a manner, it makes the reader shiver. Well, atleast it did me!

Mindy McGinnis has done is again with In A Handful of Dust, proving not only that she's a writer with stuff, but that she has the mettle to allow two women to carry an entire story solely on their shoulders. Kudos to her!

BOTTOMLINE: I'm impressed with almost everything about this book, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys frontier novels, fight-for-your-life, gritty stories, road trips and a solid dose of woman power.

Jenna Does Books:  Being inside Lucy’s head is an altogether different sort of experience because her and Lynn’s personalities are so much different from each other.

Dark Faerie Tales: In a Handful of Dust is a realistic heartwarming story about sacrifice, love, and the will to go on. I will admit that the setting is a rather depressing one but that just made it that much more real.

“And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

"We heard you shoot like a man."
"You heard wrong," Lynn said coldly. "I shoot like a woman."

Those who reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.