When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.
The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.
Until the taps run dry.
Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.
Dry SNAPSHOT: JOHN WAYNE Dalton loves the way planes take off from John Wayne Airport. It’s a real trip. They call it a “modified noise abatement takeoff,” and it was specifically implemented to spare Newport Beach millionaires from having to deal with airport noise. Basically, the plane powers up on the runway with its brakes on, then accelerates at full force into a ridiculously steep takeoff, followed ten seconds later by a sudden leveling off and throttling down of the engines, which sounds, to the uninitiated, like engine failure, causing at least one person on every flight to gasp, or even scream in panic. The plane then coasts out over the back bay, Balboa Island, and the Newport Peninsula before the pilot pushes the engines back to full and resumes the climb-out.
“They oughta call it John Glenn instead of John Wayne,” Dalton once said—because taking off from there was the closest most people would ever get to blasting off into space.
Dalton and his younger sister are regular flyers, visiting their dad, who lives up in Portland, a few times a year—Christmas, Easter, most of the summer, and every other Thanksgiving. Today, however, it’s not just the two of them traveling north. Their mother is coming, too.
“If your dad won’t put me up, I’ll be happy to stay in a hotel,” she says.
“He won’t make you do that,” Dalton tells her, but she doesn’t seem too sure.
A few years back, Dalton’s mom had left him for a loser with nice pecs and a soul patch, who she subsequently kicked to the curb a year later. Live and learn. Anyway, when the marriage went south, his dad went north.
“You understand this is not about your father and me getting back together,” she tells Dalton and his sister, but for kids of divorce, hope springs eternal.
Within minutes of the Tap-Out, his mom had gone online and bought three overpriced tickets on Alaska Air—one of the few airlines that flies nonstop to Portland on a plane that you didn’t have to get out and push.
“Last three tickets,” she told them triumphantly. “You’ve got an hour to pack. Carry-ons only.”
The trip to the airport is bumper-to-bumper. What should be a fifteen-minute ride takes almost an hour.
The parking situation at John Wayne is the first indication that there’s going to be turbulence up ahead. All but one parking structure says FULL. They get one of the last remaining spaces at the far end of the last lot. As they make their way to the terminal, Dalton notes all the cars circling, like it’s a huge game of musical chairs, with no chairs left.
The TSA checkpoint is a madhouse, which never happens here.
“A lot a people are going on vacation,” Dalton’s seven-year-old sister, Sarah, says.
“Yes, honey,” their mom responds absently.
“Where do you think they’re going?”
Their mom sighs, too stressed to continue humoring her, so Dalton looks at the boards, and takes up the slack. “Cabo San Lucas,” he says. “Denver, Dallas, Chicago . . .”
“My friend Gigi’s from Chicago.”
The security guy double takes on Dalton’s passport, because his hair is brown in the photo, but now it’s bleached blond.
“You sure this is you?”
“Last time I checked,” Dalton responds.
The humorless TSA guy lets them get into the slow-moving crawl to the metal detector, which has issues with his facial rings. Finally they make it through security with just five minutes until boarding starts. Mom is relieved.
“Okay,” she says. “We’re here. We haven’t lost anyone. No missing fingers or toes.”
“I’m thirsty,” Sarah says, but Dalton has already noticed that the concessions they passed all had NO WATER signs up.
“There’ll be something to drink on the plane,” their mother says.
Dalton thinks that might actually be true. After all, these planes all came from somewhere else. And he is getting a bit thirsty himself.
Then, just as they’re about to start boarding, the gate agent comes on the loudspeaker and makes an announcement.
“Unfortunately, we’re oversold on this flight,” she says. “We’re asking for volunteers with flexible travel plans who are willing to take a later flight.”
Sarah tugs her mother’s arm. “Mommy, volunteer!”
“Not this time, baby.”
Dalton grins. Dad always tells them to volunteer because they give away hundreds of dollars in travel vouchers, which is always worth the inconvenience. But not today. Today it’s all about getting out. Which is why they have trouble getting volunteers. The price of the vouchers goes from two hundred dollars to three hundred to five hundred dollars, and still no one is willing to surrender their ticket.
Finally the gate agent gives up. She gets on the loudspeaker, calling the names of the last people to buy tickets. Dalton, Sarah, and their mother. Dalton feels a twisting in the pit of his stomach.
“I’m sorry,” says the gate agent, not sounding sorry at all, “but as the last to purchase, I’m obliged to reschedule you to a later flight.”
Dalton’s mom goes ballistic, and he can’t blame her. This is one time they need to fight the Powers That Be.
“No,” says their mom. “I don’t care what you say! My children and I are getting on that plane!”
“You’ll each receive a five-hundred-dollar travel voucher—that’s fifteen hundred dollars,” the agent says, trying to placate them. Their mom will not be bought.
“My children have court-ordered visitation with their father,” she yells. “If you take them off this flight, you’ll be breaking the law, and I’ll sue!” Of course, this isn’t their father’s time with them, but the agent doesn’t know that.
Even so, all the agent does is apologize, and look for later flights. “There’s a flight tonight at five-thirty. . . . Oh wait, no, that one is full, too. . . . Let’s see.” She continues to hack away at her computer. “Eight-twenty . . . no . . .”
Then Dalton turns to his sister and whispers, “Give her the eyes.”
Their mom had always told both Dalton and Sarah that their big blue eyes could melt anyone into a puddle. Not so much Dalton anymore. At an awkward seventeen, a bunch of facial piercings, a biohazard neck tattoo, and what his father calls “weed-whacked hair,” the general public isn’t melted anymore. Only seventeen-year-old girls. But Sarah still has the magical melting effect on hardened adults. So he lifts her up for the agent to get a good look at her.
“Aw, you’re cute as a button,” she says. Then rips three new tickets from the printer. “Here you go—tomorrow morning at six-thirty. That’s the absolute best I can do.”
So they wait. They don’t leave, because the crowd just grows, and they know they’ll never get back through security. They spend the night sleeping in uncomfortable airport chairs, getting sips of water from anyone who’ll share with them, and there aren’t many.
Then, when morning comes, even with confirmed tickets, there’s no room on the six-thirty flight for them. Or the next one. Or the next one.
And they can’t get tickets to flights to other places.
And the airport gets so crowded that extra police are brought in to keep the peace.
And with traffic jams everywhere, trucks with jet fuel can’t get to the airport.
And Dalton, his mother, and sister have to face the fact that they won’t be blasting off anywhere.
How often do we take our water supply for granted? Sometimes we’re asked to conserve water, but it’s hard to remember to do so when you can turn on the tap and water pours out. Until one day, it doesn’t. Nobody in California expects the Tap-Out, so when the water supply cuts off, most people are not prepared. Panic ensues as stores sell out of bottled water and all other beverages. There’s hope that the government will provide relief, but as the days pass and not enough help arrives, people become angrier and even savage. For Alyssa, Garrett, and Kelton, separated from their respective parents and attempting to leave town toward safety, this anger puts their lives in danger. The unwelcome addition of Jacqui and Henry complicates the journey to Kelton’s family’s bug-out location in the woods. How will they find the strength to survive?
1. Why is the Tap-Out situation first ignored by the media? What kind of news does the media tend to report? When the national news does start to report on the Tap-Out, how do they cover it? Why is the tone of the coverage important to the residents affected by the event? Do you think that the media calling the drought a “flow crisis” affects the public’s level of preparedness? Why does Kelton think newscasters continue to tell residents to remain calm? What is the alternative? What are the risks to both sides?
2. Alyssa notes the time of the water shut-off “like they do in the emergency room: 1:32 p.m., June 4th.” What has occurred when emergency room workers note the time like this? How is that situation similar to what Alyssa is facing?
3. The Shustermans alternate between four different narrators—Alyssa, Kelton, Jacqui, and Henry—and brief “snapshots” that focus on other people. Why do you think they chose to use this format? What do the different voices add to your understanding of the story? What do the snapshots add to the overall narrative of the book? Which characters or snapshots did you find most compelling?
4. According to Kelton’s dad, what are the three types of people in the world? Do you agree with his analysis? How do you think he would classify Alyssa, Garrett, Jacqui, and Henry? When the neighbors come into the night to look at the McCrackens’ lights, Kelton says, “‘And I’m scared to the bone, because right now I can’t tell if I’m looking into the eyes of sheep, or wolves.’” Which do they end up being? Why do you think people are acting this way?
5. Why are the water-zombies such a threat? Were you surprised to see such rapid moral and physical decline in a community without water? What does this say about human nature and civilization? How might the spread of water-zombies transform society? Explain your answers. How would you have handled the water-zombies? Do you think they’re beyond help? Do you think once water access was restored, water-zombies could return to the lives they led before the Tap-Out?
6. Uncle Basil goes to Daphne’s house so that he won’t be a burden on Alyssa’s family. Why would Uncle Basil think of himself as a burden? Does his absence end up helping his family? What does Uncle Basil contribute toward Alyssa’s survival? How do you think the story might have changed if Uncle Basil had stayed?
7. Describe Kelton’s upbringing, including his family’s efforts to protect themselves. How did the neighborhood, particularly Alyssa’s family, view Kelton’s family before the Tap-Out? Are you surprised by any of Kelton’s behaviors or beliefs? Think about comments such as “winning the affection of a girl is a lot like shooting a deer” and “girls love a guy with lots of pockets.” Do you think his upbringing impacted his social instincts? Is he the kind of person you’d want with you during a Tap-Out? Explain your answer.
8. Explain why Kelton’s dad doesn’t think his family should share their supplies with their neighbors, and describe other characters’ reactions. Do you believe in this “either you share nothing or you share everything” mentality? What are the consequences of both actions? Why do some characters change their minds about sharing resources?
9. When Alyssa and Garrett set out with Kelton to find their parents, she’s surprised to see that her neighborhood looks the same, noting that “the wreckage is more internal.” At what point does the damage from the Tap-Out begin to reflect on the outside world? How does the level of visible wreckage relate to the breakdown of polite society? Are there other sorts of internal wreckage shown in this story? Do you think you would have been more afraid of the internal or external impact? Which factors would you have let guide your actions?
10. Garrett and Alyssa have very different reactions to the scene on the beach. Would you have continued walking on the beach to find out what happened? What other clues might you have found? Why do you think the authors made the object in the water ambiguous, rather than saying that it was a body?
11. When Kelton draws his gun on Dalton, he is unable to pull the trigger. With all his survivalist training, why do you think he’s unable to kill Dalton? Do you think he would have been able to shoot the marauders who overran his house? What is the difference between the confrontation with Dalton and the situation with Benji and Kyle? Why do you think the outcome is so different later in the story? How has Kelton changed between the two events?
12. What does the “call of the void” mean to Jacqui? How does her familiarity with risk help or hinder her as she tries to survive the Tap-Out? Does her attitude toward the call of the void change during the course of the story?
13. Why does Jacqui decide against going back to the house where she is squatting after witnessing the scene at the beach? Do you agree that her chances of survival are better with people rather than hiding from them? Think about the state of the beach when Garrett and Alyssa arrived, and the evidence that something terrible had occurred there. Did Jacqui’s description of her beach experience match what you thought had happened based on Garrett and Alyssa’s observations? What made Jacqui realize it was going to turn into a riot? What would you have done in the situation? What could have been done to prevent the situation?
14. It is difficult for the different members of this group to trust one another. What alliances form as they move toward the bug-out? How do the different characters lose or gain the confidence of others? In the end, who do you think proves themselves worthy of that trust? How might outcomes have changed if someone had shown more or less trust toward the others?
15. What is Kelton’s dad trying to avoid with his end-of-the-world prepping? Is he able to achieve his goal of protecting his family? Do you think Kelton’s ability to see his father as human is a consequence of the situation at hand or of shifting perceptions on Kelton’s part?
16. Are you surprised that Jacqui leaves the antibiotics for Uncle Basil and Daphne? What does it say about who Jacqui really is? Do you think she would have done this at the beginning of the story? Explain your answer.
17. Why do the others allow Henry to travel with them? Are there points at which they could have gotten what they needed without him? Why do you think no one thought to look inside the packaging to make sure Henry was really carrying a full case of water? Why is it so much easier for Alyssa to trust him than it is for her to trust Jacqui or even Kelton?
18. As the group travels down the aqueduct, Kelton says, “‘It feels to me like the world has torn in two, and we’re traveling the seam of that tear. The chasm between what was, and what will be.’” Do you think the world has torn in two? Explain your answer. Why do you think Kelton feels this way? Why is an aqueduct such an appropriate place to act as the seam between the old world and the new? Can you think of a time in your life where you’ve faced a big transition? If so, can you relate to Kelton’s statement? How would your feelings have impacted your actions if you were in Kelton’s situation?
19. Why does Brady leave home? Do these reasons have anything to do with his family’s inability to reach him after the Tap-Out? How does his death change the way that Kelton reacts to the events around him? In what way do Brady’s actions endanger his family as well as himself?
20. What allows the Water Angel’s group to work together without turning on one another or falling prey to outside dangers? How much of this has to do with Charity’s personality? What keeps the group from staying on the highway with Charity? Can you come up with other places that water can be found where others may not have thought to look?
21. Why was Kelton’s drone spying on Alyssa inappropriate and unacceptable? Do you think Kelton now understands the seriousness of his actions?
22. As Alyssa steals water to save Garrett, Jacqui says, “‘I won’t take [the water]. Because even though I’ve seen everyone around me lose their humanity today, I realize that in this moment, I have finally found mine.’” What evidence does she have that everyone else has lost their humanity? What has caused her to find hers? Think about how Alyssa said she would never become a monster, yet she’s taken water from an old woman to save her brother. Would you do the same to save yourself or someone you love?
23. Do you think Alyssa would have been able to shoot Garrett, Kelton, and herself? Would this have been an act of bravery or of cowardice? Have you or anyone you know ever faced an impossible decision? If so, how was it handled? Did you come to a solution? What did you learn about yourself or your values?
24. Why does Henry take credit for saving people from a burning building? How does this relate to his actions throughout the story? Do you think he views the Tap-Out as a tragedy or an opportunity? Often characters grow throughout a novel, while others fall or simply don’t change at all. Which kind of character is Henry? When you learn his age at the end of the book, does it change your opinion of him? Explain your answer.
1. The citizens of California had made some halfhearted efforts to conserve water, but they were not enough to prevent the chaos of a shutdown. What is your community doing to conserve this precious natural resource? Research what water-saving ordinances exist in your town, and if there is a plan for providing water during a drought. If there is not, talk to local leaders about your concerns or draft a letter urging them to create some.
2. Individuals and families can also help conserve water in their own homes and yards. What efforts have you made toward conservation? Come up with a plan for your household that will allow you to save a gallon of water per day. When you have mastered these techniques, see if you can decrease your water usage even further.
3. The scarcity of natural resources made it prohibitively difficult for Alyssa and the others to share with their neighbors. Help prevent this sort of situation by collecting non-perishable food and beverages for a local food pantry. Get your classmates or neighbors involved in the cause.
4. Kelton and his family had prepared both their home and their bug-out for survival in case of a crisis like the Tap-Out. What would be in your survival kit? Decide what you would need to carry with you in case of an emergency, and gather the items together in a sturdy bag or backpack. Keep it on hand in case anything happens. What items should everyone have in an emergency kit?
5. There are a number of skills that Alyssa and the others find handy during their journey, including first aid, martial arts, and map reading. Choose one of these skills that you don’t currently possess, and learn more about it. Take lessons or visit your local library for books and videos on the topics.
6. The group has to navigate mountains, forests, and river beds to reach safety. Using google earth or satellite map pictures, plot out the actual path they took from South Orange County to the Angeles National Forest. What would you have found most challenging? Most thrilling?
7. Though the desalination machines do not end up producing any potable water, you can learn to make your own simple desalination machine or water purifier. Find an article, book, or YouTube video to help you build your own lifesaving device. Then research where desalination is currently being used. Are there any plants in the US? Are there plants that were being built, but were never finished? Write a letter advocating for additional plants to be built or any partial construction to be completed, and research who best to send it to.
8. Dehydration is not the only risk during a disaster of this size. What other illnesses can take hold during a catastrophe? How do we safeguard against this? What might happen if an illness spreads as quickly as the packs of water-zombies? Research natural disasters and plagues throughout history to trace the diagnoses, evolution, consequences, treatment, and efforts for future prevention. What important lessons were learned? What kinds of technology do we have today that might help us to better fight the spread of contagious diseases?
Guide written by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his newest series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at StoryMan.com and Facebook.com/NealShusterman.
Jarrod Shusterman is the author of the short story “UnDevoured” in bestselling Unbound. He writes for film and television, and his talents extend to directing films and commercials. He was the story producer on the television movie Zedd—Moment of Clarity, and he and Neal Shusterman are adapting Dry for the screen. Jarrod lives in Los Angeles but enjoys traveling internationally, and is currently studying Spanish. He can be found on Instagram @JarrodShusterman.