Ruby Prosser dreams of escaping the Congregation and the early-nineteenth century lifestyle that’s been practiced since the community was first enslaved.
She plots to escape the vicious Darwin West, his cruel Overseers, and the daily struggle to gather the life-prolonging Water that keeps the Congregants alive and gives Darwin his wealth and power. But if Ruby leaves, the Congregation will die without the secret ingredient that makes the Water special: her blood.
So she stays.
But when Ruby meets Ford, the new Overseer who seems barely older than herself, her desire for freedom is too strong. He’s sympathetic, irresistible, forbidden—and her only access to the modern world. Escape with Ford would be so simple, but can Ruby risk the terrible price, dooming the only world she’s ever known?
~summary from GoodReads.com
Spooning for water. This is what Ruby, her mother, and the rest of the Congregation–enslaved long ago by Darwin West–do all day, every day. Spooning delicate drops of dew and moisture from leaves and plant stalks into pewter cups, praying they can make the unrealistic quotas–maybe a full cup of water one day, maybe two cups another day–demanded by Darwin West and his savage flunkies. The forest in which Ruby, her family, and the Congregation work is all Ruby has ever known, and this is the worst drought in their long history together.
Ruby’s mother, Sula, serves as Reverend to the Congregants. Sula preaches that one day, the person who brought them to the forest (helping them flee another horror) will return. Ruby is to take Sula’s place as Reverend someday, particularly because she, like the person who brought them to the forest, has powers in her blood. But Ruby is tired of waiting. Tired of watching people she loves suffer brutally by Darwin’s punishments. Ruby has thoughts that go against her mother’s teachings, and in this lies her search: not only for freedom for herself and the Congregants, but her longing to know and follow her own mind and strength.
Bachorz’s depiction of this strange enclave is believable and shows, starkly, the bleak existence of the Congregants’ life. Her writing is spare and melancholy, smoothly drawing the reader deeper into just how tightly bound the Congregation, led by Sula, is. Darwin and his men are merciless and hard, but the Congregants have their own ways of binding, too. Ruby fights all of the chains threatening to tighten at her throat. Even when she meets the kind Overseer Ford, she wonders if his version of freedom is a trap as well. But if she leaves the forest with Ford, can her mother and Congregation live if she doesn’t keep giving the magic of her blood to the water, which makes it so valuable?
Drought is a book that explores religion, family bonds, individualism, and the chains we all put around ourselves, whether we are part of an insular group which shuns disbelievers; committing cruel acts with the mentality of “it’s my job;” or keeping our own values and instincts locked away for some greater good we no longer remember or understand. Darwin, by his name alone, seems to represent survival of the fittest by power. Ruby’s mother, Sula (meaning either “peaceful” or “little she-bear”), wields more subtle methods of subjugation. Ruby–her namesake gemstone portraying fire, passion, and blood–is in the middle, and she is desperate to know truth. Her truth. And what is in her world is not only a drought of water, but a desert of lies.
Bachorz doesn’t spend much time on world-building or backstory. She drops us into Ruby’s life, lets us in piece by piece, and what is left unanswered will stay a mystery. We travel with Ruby not just through her current world, but toward what life she might choose.
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