It’s in the rain…and just one drop will kill you.
They don’t believe it at first. Crowded in Zach’s kitchen, Ruby and the rest of the partygoers laugh at Zach’s parents’ frenzied push to get them all inside as it starts to drizzle. But then the radio comes on with the warning, “It’s in the rain! It’s fatal, it’s contagious, and there’s no cure.”
Two weeks later, Ruby is alone. Anyone who’s been touched by rain or washed their hands with tap water is dead. The only drinkable water is quickly running out. Ruby’s only chance for survival is a treacherous hike across the country to find her father-if he’s even still alive.
Oh guys. I have been dying to write this review for WEEKS, but now that it’s time, I’m not sure how to begin. I ran through a gamut of emotions from contempt to fascination and admiration, terror to giggles, and hope to despair and back again. This book was worlds away from what I had anticipated, and I couldn’t be happier.
Our narrator is Ruby Morris, a fifteen-year-old British girl with nothing more on her mind than kissing her crush Caspar at a party and keeping her bossy step-father Simon at arm’s length. When killer rain falls from the sky, turning everyone it touches into a contagious, raving mess of blood and sores, Ruby tries to cling to her old life even as her new life—one of horror, hardship, and loss—muscles its way in.
Guys, if you’d told me at the beginning of the book that I would adore Ruby by the end, I would’ve laughed in your face. Ruby is very much an Unlikeable Heroine. She’s whiny and shortsighted, with most of her fears being channeled into obsessing over her missing cell phone and giving herself makeovers with raided beauty products. She runs outside without protective rain gear (despite the fact that she lives in a notoriously drizzly country and even a drop of rain can kill you), values neighborhood pets over the neighbors themselves, hoards junk food and purses instead of necessities, and guzzles bottled water like more will magically appear tomorrow.
Ruby Morris is no Katniss Everdeen, and for that, I’m glad. Ruby is not a seventeen-year-old mini-adult raised on responsibility, hardship, and loss. She is a spoiled, fifteen-year-old child living in one of the most powerful first-world countries on Earth, and she acts like it. Her selfishness and narrow focus protect her from the horror outside her bedroom door. Stressing over a missing cell phone is much easier than stressing over the dead and decaying bodies in your front yard. Whining over having to pee in a bucket is more manageable than focusing on the unrelenting thirst that puffs up your tongue and clogs your throat. Picking on the oafish clod Darius Spratt for his body odor and pimples is preferable to being thankful for his company, since he very well may be one of the last people alive in the entire UK. Ruby is alone, afraid, and only fifteen years old, and H2O does not let you forget it for a second.
And Ruby is only the glorious peak of the “I Can’t Even” iceberg when it comes to these characters. Everyone is so… real. They’re such an untidy mess of acceptable and awful, necessary and selfish. We see Ruby’s mom and step-dad through her eyes, domineering and unfair but also her entire world once the rain starts, along with her beautiful brat of a baby brother, Henry. I loathed Simon and his know-it-all ways in the beginning, but by the end was crying as he shouted out homework to Ruby to try to block out the cries of the slowly dying. Darius Spratt, the schoolmate Ruby meets on her trek to find her biological dad in London, would rightly be the hero in a stereotypical story. He’s a math and science genius to Ruby’s C+ average, patient with the lost kid they nickname Princess when all Ruby wants to do is rant and scream, and level-headed and prepared for nearly every eventuality. But he’s also young, just like Ruby, with almost no social skills and prone to rudeness and scary pragmatism.
If you’re looking for a feel-good tale, this is not it. H2O is scary. It will mess with your head. (Note: I paused this book once to go on a walk and just about jumped out of my skin when I looked up and saw the storm clouds coming.) While the science itself is a little iffy, the systematic breakdown of normal life is appallingly realistic. Ruby encounters different reactions in the remainder of humanity, and each one rings true. If your world ended, which would you be? The dying lovers, kissing in a rain-soaked parking lot? The cowardly homeowner, setting traps for looters? The Girl Guides, trying to restore peace and order? The military, protecting its interests and looking ahead toward a new regime? The Oxford Street shoppers, metaphorically healing themselves with the spree of a lifetime? Or someone like Ruby, who just wants to feel safe and normal again?
By the time you finish this book, you will be able to imagine the smell of a rotting corpse (spicy-sweet). You will know exactly what people will do for a drop of clean water (from drinking spoiled flowerpot water to killing another human). You will fear clouds and puddles and automatic sprinklers, and you will watch with Ruby as she anxiously names the formations that crawl across the sky. You will probably be longing for something you will never get, for this is not an ending full of redemption. People do horrible things and are not given a second chance. Characters cross paths and impact each other, but then fade into the mist on the edges of the storyline and are never seen again. This is also not an ending with a magical fix. There is no superhero, no spell, no easy out. There is also no closure. This is a story that ends with an ellipsis, not a period. What becomes of Ruby and her world is left up to you*.
H2O is not your ordinary story. It is an awful story—depressing, scary realism at its most powerful, and one of the best books I’ve read all year.
*Note: I later found out through Goodreads that H2O is actually a duology, but I think it functions even more powerfully as a standalone and therefore have reviewed it as such.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quote:
Then it comes. Your lungs suck in air; your body decides for you.
You will live.
You’re one breath away from her, then two, then three, then four, then five.
[Spoiler], I am still breathing.
“The rain—” That’s all I remember hearing to begin with. “It’s in the rain,” and everyone staring at the radio as if it was a TV.
Points Added For: Ruby and her characterization, Simon, making me gag, making me cry, realism, being such a depressing but thrilling ride, being DIFFERENT, that ending.
Points Subtracted For: Some unexplained plot holes, not sure some of what Ruby said works with the tense, the bit about the sweat (EW).
Good For Fans Of: Not a Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis (had so much fun running comparisons between the two),
Notes For Parents: Making out, drug use, drinking, lots of death (including children), some graphic details (decay-wise), upsetting animal scenes.
Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.