Vera and her brother, Will, live in the Republic of Illinowa – what is left of what was once the midwestern United States. The country has been dissolved into six self governing republics with strict borders. Food is quasi-real, of questionable quality, and expensive, while money and employment are hard to come by. Water is carefully collected, strictly rationed and a resource worthy of perpetrating criminal activity for, or even risking death. When siblings Vera and Will befriend Kai, a wealthy and enigmatic teenager with seemingly unlimited access to water, they relentlessly try to prise from him the secrets of his source, little realizing the danger about to descend upon them through their association with him.
The world building that starts off Cameron Stracher’s highly anticipated debut YA novel, The Water Wars is fantastic. I truly believed in the picture that he painted of thirsty people with dry skin, living in deteriorating conditions and fearful of violence. If you never considered just how vital water is and how much it impacts daily life, then you definitely will after reading the first pages of this book. Stracher also conveyed how politics, secret allegiances and fighting amongst the governments were at best at the expense of the people, and at the worst perpetrated in an effort to control them. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and there is a lot of adventure and action as Vera and Will attempt to locate Kai, who goes missing under dubious circumstances.
While the aspects of this novel concerning water and politics were well researched and constructed, thin characterizations, lack of detail or sometimes conflicting details, made this a shaky read for me after the excitement over the initial world-building. A big part of the problem is that the relationship between Vera and Kai happened much too quickly, they meet once – suddenly the family is spending a fortune they don’t have in food to invite him over for dinner, and then after a few vague visits traded back and forth, Vera is risking her life, and forcing her brother to risk his, for a stranger they are not even remotely prepared to help. There just wasn’t enough between them to convince me that this was rational on her part, so I spent the rest of the time distracted by how little sense it made. The search for Kai happens in almost episodic chapters, barely connected to each other, when the kids are passed along from one set of bad guys to the next – some of whom they inexplicably manage to bond with.
The makings of a good story were here, but something went wrong for me in the details and execution.