Water Wars

Water Wars

Author: Cameron Stracher

Publication: 2011, Sourcebooks

Pages: 256

Overall Rating: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Vera and her brother, Will, live in the republic of Illinowa, in what was once the midwestern United States.  Though her parents can remember a time when rivers ran free and people took baths for pleasure, the world Vera lives in is very different.  Water is the rarest of resources.  Hundreds of millions of people have died from thirst, disease, and warfare.  The water that is available in Illinowa is often contaminated or carries the brackish taste of desalination.  And anyone caught wasting water can be sent to prison or worse.  Then she meets Kai, a strange boy who travels with a bodyguard, talks of hidden rivers, and even spills cups of water on the ground.  Vera is entranced, and when Kai goes missing under mysterious circumstances she’s determined to find him.  Vera and Will set off into the unknown, and soon find themselves pursued by water pirates, the Peoples’ Environmental Liberation Army, and Bluewater, a corrupt and greedy desalination company intent on destroying the last known sources of fresh water in the world.  All of them want to find Kai, and it will take everything Vera and Will have to save their friend.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: It’s a great concept, filled with enough wonderful details to make it ring scarily true – like Vera’s dry skin, or the fact that a quarter of the kids in her school were always out sick.  All those little details come together to make Stracher’s world that much more believable.

I also liked the way that as water supplies ran short Canada dammed all the rivers flowing into the former United States and Europe sucked all the water from what remained of the polar caps – scary, but how true, with each country grabbing what little water remained and hoarding it.

What I Liked the Least: While some of the details Stracher provides make this a better story, others make it feel thin.  For example, he refers to something called a ‘dry shower’ as the answer to how people can shower in a place with so little water, but never says what a dry shower is.  We’re supposed to be impressed by the simple name.  He also takes common things and tweaks the name just enough to make them sound high tech and different – like ‘synthaspirin’ instead of aspirin and ‘quasi-vocados’ instead of avocados.

There also seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies around the lack of water.  For example, water is so limited that people have started using a waterless –and fairly ineffective – form of concrete.  Grain crops are a thing of the past as they take too much water to grow.  On the other hand, water desalination companies apparently grow vast fields of soybeans.  And even though the soybeans have been genetically altered, growing them is still water intensive and transforming them into all the soy products described in the book requires a great deal of water too.  There are also references early in the book to the main character being told by her teachers to wash her hands, and another reference to sneaking water from the fountain at school.  If water really is in such short supply, hand washing would seem like a rarity and all public water fountains would have been ripped out.

In the end, however, those are small issues.  The real problem is that there are just too many adults in this story.  Vera and Will could never survive even a third of what gets thrown at them here if it weren’t for the selfless intervention of adults.  While they do come up with some good ideas, and take the initiative more than once, there are a lot of fights and chases that they only survive because they’ve got some ruthless and well armed adults on their side.  And for a YA book, that’s just not cool.

How Good was the Action?  The action really suffers from the fact that for much of it Vera, the main character, is a third person observer to the fights and chases that take place.  The ones she’s personally involved in are well done – I can often feel her pain and exhaustion as she tries to escape from the latest people wanting to kill her.  But in most of the other cases, even though the action is reasonably well done it feels distant because it’s Vera’s brother or some adult who’s leading the charge.  Vera’s just watching and hoping for the best.

How Engaging was the Story?   The story suffers from three basic problems on this count.  One, again, is the overreliance on adults, which helped push me out of the story.

Second, and more important, there are just too many coincidences and absurd situations to make the story plausible.  In one case a whole bunch of people die.  Vera, one of the few survivors, gets caught and thrown in an armored truck.  And, oh my, her brother just happens to be inside it too.  In more than one case, they’re about to get killed when some adult appears out of nowhere to blow their attackers away and save them.

Finally, Vera’s determination to rescue Kai is central to the story, but in the time before Kai disappeared I never felt enough emotional charge behind their friendship to explain her overwhelming desire to save him.  They have some good times and even share an intimate moment, but frankly it still feels ridiculous when Vera and Will are trapped inside an armored vehicle on their way to either death or a life of slave labor and all Vera and think about is getting out so that she can try to rescue Kai again – despite the fact that she’s hundreds of miles behind enemy lines with no food, water, or supplies, and a very grim future staring her right in the face.  Sorry, but I wasn’t buying it.

Overall Assessment: Stracher has created an interesting and frightening world, which at times seems all too real as news of droughts and melting Arctic ice hits the news.  But the story loses much of its power by bringing in too many adult allies and making them central to Vera’s struggle.  This is made worse by the fact that Vera and Will seem to be constantly getting rescued by adults and are often secondary players in the battles that swirl around them.  It feels like Stracher simply gave them a job that was too big for them to handle, and the book might have been more interesting if the task they’d been set were a bit easier.  The book’s ending was also slightly disappointing, as though Stracher somehow felt like it was necessary to reassure us that even in a world without water everything could still be full of hope.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  It can be reasonably graphic at times.  People get shot with guns and harpoons, drown, and burned to death with steam.  And there are some fairly grisly descriptions of wounds.

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