Author: Cameron Stracher
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Post-Apocalypse
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Publication Date: January 2011
Hardcover: 256 Pages
Would you risk everything for someone you just met?
What if he had a secret worth killing for?
Welcome to a future where water is more precious than oil or gold…
Hundreds of millions of people have already died, and millions more will soon fall-victims of disease, hunger, and dehydration. It is a time of drought and war. The rivers have dried up, the polar caps have melted, and drinkable water is now in the hands of the powerful few. There are fines for wasting it and prison sentences for exceeding the quotas.
But Kai didn’t seem to care about any of this. He stood in the open road drinking water from a plastic cup, then spilled the remaining drops into the dirt. He didn’t go to school, and he traveled with armed guards. Kai claimed he knew a secret-something the government is keeping from us…
And then he was gone. Vanished in the middle of the night. Was he kidnapped? Did he flee? Is he alive or dead? There are no clues, only questions. And no one can guess the lengths to which they will go to keep him silent. We have to find him-and the truth-before it is too late for all of us.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I first caught word of The Water Wars last year, and was struck by the idea of a drought-ridden future. Cameron Stracher is a noted media lawyer and has written for a number of news publications, so I was eager to see how his writing would translate to fiction. Also, on a superficial note, I love the covers that the book went through (I believe this was one which Sourcebooks polled fans for their favorite cover before printing – which is AWESOME).
In the space of a single generation, humans have all but drained Earth’s reservoirs of fresh water, melted and consumed its glaciers, and destroyed land-based wildlife across its continents. Water, the most precious and vital commodity for life, has gone scarce – and those that control the precious few remaining reserves hold all the power. In a squabble for power, the United States have been broken up and reformed into eight independent superstates, constantly at war with each other and with the Empire of Canada to the north. One key corporation emerges as the leader in desalinization technology, while extremist environmental groups, opportunistic water drillers, and pirates vie for resources across an arid landscape.
In this new world, normal citizens have few rights and even fewer prospects for the future. Teenager Vera and her older brother Will have never known about grassy parks or swimming pools, which seem like made-up stories from an extravagant time that they can hardly believe existed. Their world is dry and harsh, with few animals, synthetic food, and dry chemical washes. But one day, everything they know about their world changes when Vera meets a strange boy on her way to school – a healthy, smooth-skinned boy that cavalierly drinks a bottle of water, and spills the excess on the ground. Vera and Will befriend the strange boy, Kai, and they learn that he and his father are very rich prospectors, who have found hidden reservoirs of water. When Kai tells Vera about a freshwater river he has discovered, she can hardly believe it is true – but when Kai mysteriously disappears the next day, his home turned upside down and his bodyguard left dead, she knows that he must be telling the truth. Together, Vera and Will leave the safety of their home and embark on a perilous adventure to find and rescue their friend.
The Water Wars, Cameron Stracher’s first young adult novel, is one freaking scary book. The strongest aspect of the novel lies in its worldbuilding and vision of the future, which is, frankly, terrifying. While dystopias and post-apocalyptic landscapes are a big trend in YA literature at the moment, most focus on supernatural causes (zombies), or more realistic catastrophes like global warming or oil shortages. Water, on the other hand, is one of our most precious resources, and already faces serious shortages – The Water Wars is so effective because it paints a stark, horrifying picture of what very well could be Earth’s future. Bereft of fresh water, life on the planet could face extinction, and the images of fighting supernations, struggling for ownership of dams, technology and controlling populations through contrived wars all rang as true. Furthermore, the descriptions of polluted oceans, heavy with alkalis and toxins from “desalinization,” mysterious sicknesses, and synthetic food and water carefully controlled by corporate hands are all resonant, scary thoughts. Thematically, The Water Wars manages to provoke thought and inspire change (one thinks of the tons of water pumped into decorative fountains in Las Vegas, for example, and cannot help but feel ill at the extravagant waste).
So far as the actual storyline goes, The Water Wars is an action-packed chase novel, which is captivating and absolutely readable, if ridiculous. While the worldbuilding is frightening in its reality, the actual plot for the book is more from the Jerry Bruckheimer school of plausibility – Vera and Will go on a half-cocked (really extremely dumb) plan to “rescue” Kai, and are immediately kidnapped and kept alive by a number of different villains (of course, they make some unexpected best-bud allies along the way). That said, the plot contrivances and deus ex machina-isms were easy to gloss over – because the book is so entertaining, and because the worldbuilding is, again, so strong. Mr. Stracher’s writing is factual and flows efficiently, and though it lacks any finesse or flair, it’s certainly competent, and I found myself finishing this book in a single sitting.
The only big drawback, however, is that while Mr. Stracher’s factual style emphasized the brutality of this dystopian/post-apocalyptic landscape, it also meant that there is a level of disconnection with each of the characters. Vera and Will, our dual protagonists, are certainly brave and intelligent teens, but felt two-dimensional, and their relationship isn’t explored nearly as deeply as I would have liked. Each possessed the usual qualities one finds in YA heroic characters (bravery, moral integrity, selflessness, etc), but beyond these basic elements, there wasn’t much that made me believe in these two as actual people.
Despite this reservation, I am and always have been a girl that is all about plotting – action, worldbuilding, politicizing, etc make me tick. And with that in mind, I was able to let the hollow characterizations slide and immerse myself in this book (although I completely understand why some folks might feel very differently). Recommended for the scary and realistic dystopian/post-apocalyptic future and entertaining (if completely impossible) story; not recommended if you’re looking for deep-rooted character soul-searching and the like.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The year before he joined the Reclamation, when he was still seventeen, my brother Will set a new high score at the YouToo! booth at the gaming center. It was a record that stood for many years, and there were plenty of people who thought it would never be broken, although eventually it was. But by then my brother didn’t care; he had found more important things to do than waste his time playing games in which winning only meant you had to play again.
We lived then in a time of drought and war. The great empires had fallen and been divided. The land was parched and starved for moisture, and the men who lived on it fought for every drop. Outside, the wind howled like something wounded. Inside, our skin flaked, and our eyes stung and burned. Our tongues were like thick snakes asleep in dark graves.
That’s why I’ll never forget the first time I saw Kai. He was standing in the open road drinking a glass of water like it didn’t matter-water from an old plastene cup. There could have been anything in that cup: bacteria or a virus or any of the other poisons they taught about at school. Men had dug so deep for water that salt had leached into the wells, and unnamed diseases lived in what remained. But Kai didn’t seem to care. He drank his water like it was the simplest thing in the world. I knew it was water because when he was finished, he did something extraordinary: he flipped the cup upside down and spilled the last remaining drops into the dust.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Check out some of the alternate covers for The Water Wars – any preferences?
I think I like the final cover best.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: First Truth by Dawn Cook