105 pages 3 hours read

Neal Shusterman, Jarrod Shusterman


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Dry, by father-son team Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, is a young adult survival novel with elements of thriller literature, dystopian fiction, and science fiction. First published in 2018, this novel is written for middle to early high school readers. The Shustermans received numerous awards and nominations for the novel, such as inclusion among the American Library Association (ALA) Best Books for Young Adults, the Cooperative Children’s Book Council Choices, and the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens.

This guide uses the 2019 paperback edition of Dry; your page numbers may vary. The novel—and therefore this guide—discusses some potentially triggering topics, including violence, threats of sexual violence, and death.

Alyssa Morrow, a 16-year-old junior in high school, is with her family in California when the water first runs dry in an event known as the Tap-Out. Some people take the Tap-Out seriously. Alyssa’s 10-year-old brother Garrett doesn’t know at first how to conserve water. Her uncle, however, takes them that evening to get supplies. A snapshot shows that some people even try to flee California, although so many want to leave that it’s difficult. Alyssa’s neighbor—her schoolmate Kelton McCracken—comes from a family of preppers and are well prepared for such a disaster. Alyssa’s uncle eventually decides to leave, not wanting to use up Alyssa’s family’s resources. Another snapshot shows a news anchor using a station helicopter to flee to a place with water.

Kelton, who has a crush on Alyssa, decides to help her family. Later, Garrett runs away after accidentally ruining the Morrow family’s water supply, and Kelton helps Alyssa find him. Alyssa’s parents leave to find more water. In the meantime, neighbors approach the McCrackens asking them to share their resources, but Kelton’s dad is unwilling.

A series of snapshots show an activist trying to divert a municipal water truck delivering water to a power plant—and then an angry mob taking over the water truck and storming the power plant. Kelton’s parents argue about sharing resources, and Kelton escapes the tension to help defend Alyssa and Garrett. Alyssa is initially mad that Kelton has a gun, but after they go looking for her parents and run into a scary man, she’s grateful for its protection. Another snapshot shows an older woman defying fear and crowd mentality to help protect people on the interstate from a fire. When the kids are unable to find Alyssa and Garrett’s parents, Alyssa tries to save an older man from a group of boys. A new girl, Jacqui, is forced to intervene, saving them from the boys too.

Jacqui, who lives on her own, squatting in houses, negotiates treatment for a wound in exchange for driving the kids home. There, Alyssa and Garrett find their house still empty but now ransacked. Kelton takes them all to his house, which annoys his father. Alyssa sneaks off to attend a homeowners’ association (HOA) meeting and share some water, but the adults’ fighting scares her, and she leaves. Soon, martial law is declared in Los Angeles, which doesn’t surprise Kelton. One morning, the family hears people trying to break into the house, and Kelton’s dad shoots the intruder before realizing that he has killed his older son, Brady, as he enters the home. Others soon storm the house, and Alyssa, Jacqui, and Garrett escape with Kelton.

In the gated community of Dove Canyon, a boy named Henry runs a ruthless water business. Most of the neighborhood is sick from drinking out of an old tanker of water. Alyssa and Garrett’s Uncle Basil is staying in Dove Canyon with Daphne, and he traded his truck to the boy for clean water. The kids try to retrieve the truck, and Henry negotiates passage with them. Two snapshots show a pilot airlifting drinking water into the Tap-Out Zone while people in a Target parking lot below, who receive no water, resort to extreme measures to get some. Meanwhile, the kids and Henry head toward Kelton’s family’s bug-out (a shelter with supplies). The military briefly diverts them to an evacuation center, but they manage to escape and continue heading to the bug-out.

A snapshot shows Herb, also known as Uncle Basil, struggling to care for Daphne while he worries about his family. The kids manage to navigate toward a series of dried-up waterways that will take them to the bug-out. When they run low on fuel, they search for more gas and come upon a makeshift commune run by a woman named Charity. They stop there for the night. There, Henry discovers that Kelton used to spy on Alyssa. Henry manipulates Alyssa into being angry at Kelton for this, but Alyssa ends up mad at both boys.

The next day, they all head toward the bug-out again. When they reach it, however, they find that all the supplies are gone. Kelton figures out that his brother was living there for the last few months and depleted the water and other supplies. The group is now getting dehydrated. Alyssa is initially grateful to Henry, as he convinced the group to not drink more of the water he brought. However, they soon discover that Henry’s box of water is really a box of brochures, and they have no water at all. Henry tries to sneak away, but Kelton captures him. Kelton then plans to take everyone to a nearby reservoir, where he hopes they’ll find water. Before they leave, Alyssa and Kelton make up somewhat, although Alyssa says she’ll never truly trust Kelton after his spying.

Jacqui drives them toward the reservoir but grows weak and nearly crashes the car. Henry wants to escape but knows he’s better off with the group. Everyone is becoming severely dehydrated when they encounter two men with a camper in the woods. While they stop to check out the situation, Kelton realizes that the men are dangerous, but Henry has already escaped and begun negotiating with them to get water for himself. The men try to take the truck and threaten Alyssa, and Kelton is forced to kill them. Henry escapes again, and the rest of the group is unable to get more than a cup of water from the camper before a fire forces them to leave. They make it to a mile from the reservoir before crashing the truck, and they attempt to walk the rest of the way. Severely weakened and under threat of fire, Jacqui decides to head through the flames toward the reservoir while Alyssa, Garrett, and Kelton try to walk around. They soon realize that they’re trapped, and Alyssa thinks she’ll need to kill everyone to spare them from death by fire. In a snapshot, a water bomber pilot sees the kids and decides to ignore his orders so that he can save them. He drops his water supply on the fire near the kids, saving them.

Two weeks later, a snapshot shows Disneyland reopening, providing hope and happiness to people after the disaster. Things seem almost back to normal to Alyssa, who was rescued along with Garrett and Kelton. They were taken to an evacuation center before going home. Alyssa’s parents, who were in jail and the hospital, had been relatively safe. On the news, Kelton and Alyssa see that Henry, who’s apparently only 13, is safe and pretending to be a hero. Kelton’s parents are now divorcing, and Kelton plans to stay with his mom. The novel closes with Alyssa’s dad picking up Alyssa and Kelton to take them to the hospital, where Jacqui is recovering from her burns.