Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: January 25, 2011
Ruby and the Congregation spend their time collecting water under the direction of watchful and cruel Darwin West and his Overseers for the mysterious Visitor. In the woods, where they work and live, time has stood still and the Congregation lives exactly as it did in 1812 - in sparse one room cabins with no running water or electricity. They are waiting for Otto, their leader, to return to the woods and save them. Routinely beaten and starved, the Congregation toils through one of the driest summers upstate New York has ever seen to gather their quota of water each day; water that Ruby turns into Water. This summer a new Overseer begins working for Darwin, he is different from the other Overseers and much like Ruby is stuck in a situation he has very little control over. As they get to know each other, Ruby starts to see that maybe she does have some say in how she lives her own life.
Drought is a book that raises a lot of questions. And it was difficult at times to read because it didn't give many answers. Every chapter brought more questions and few answers. My biggest and most persistent question was, why did the members of the Congregation allow themselves to be enslaved? Because that's what they are: Darwin's slaves - he decides how much Water they are required to collect every day, if they get to eat, and who will be beaten when quotas are not met. Ruby, because of her special blood, is enslaved twice - once to Darwin and once to the Congregation because they rely on her to change the Water which slows down their aging and heals them. You would think that after a reasonable amount of time had passed the Congregation would find some way of rising up against the Overseers and escaping the forest. I have to believe that it was their faith and belief that they would be saved, by Otto, from their predicament that kept them going day after day.
Another threads in the story include choice and faith. Throughout her life, Ruby has shouldered a great responsibility. She's not exactly happy with her life, one that has been mapped out for her, but she doesn't know any other way of living. And even though she dreams of escape, she repeatedly makes the choice to stay. Then she meets Ford, the newest Overseer. He makes Ruby question her life in the forest and her faith in Otto. The romance part of their relationship, was odd to me and it felt like Ford was interested in Ruby because she was the only person on the mountain (and in the forest) that appeared to be close to his age. But, I found their conversations to be really interesting. Through Ford, Ruby gets to see that the world outside, off the mountain, has gone on, that her life could be so much more than it is. I kept wanting her to take the next step and mount some sort of rebellion, to stand up to her mother and the Congregation at least, even if she couldn't stand up to Darwin.
I felt that the world Ms. Bachorz created was downright scary. I would not want to stumble across this patch of forest. The Congregation's isolation was believable and frightening and reminiscent of some of the communities we hear about on the news from time to time. Many of the characters were hard to like, especially Darwin. He is definitely in a class of his own when it comes to his cruelty and (extreme lack of) people skills. Ruby's mother, Sula, was another character I had a hard time liking, mainly because I blame her for the Congregation's isolation. Even Ruby had her moments when I wanted to reach through the pages and have a heart to heart with her, so I could tell her to start listening to her instincts, that it was okay that she was questioning her beliefs. I found myself really routing for her and wanting a good outcome for her. I wanted to know more about the other members of the Congregation and wished that they had been fleshed out a bit more.
Overall, I did enjoy reading Drought, despite not getting answers and all the open questions. The ending was very open ended, that's all I'll say about that because I don't want to spoil it, and it left me with a bit of hope. I would recommend Drought to readers who like their stories dark and their heroines conflicted.