In which I review Virginia Bergin’s YA science fiction novel, H2O.
I did a thing that I absolutely am against doing.
I bought a book because the cover was cool.
I mean, the premise of the book was cool as well, but to be honest, I really, really fell in love with the cover.
I actually don’t have a lot of spoiler-y stuff to rant about with this book, so I’m not doing two separate posts this time. It should be safe to proceed unless you truly are a person who really doesn’t want to know anything at all about a book before you read it. In which case, you probably don’t even read reviews, do you? So you’re probably not here right now, are you?
Here is the synopsis:
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.
(That synopsis isn’t even accurate though. They didn’t really come out and say that on the radio).
I give this book a 2/5 I think. I considered 1/5, but the amazing premise saved it. In fact, 5/5 for the premise…just not the book.
Oh, do I love the premise. Creepy, realistic, thought-provoking…I love it for so many reasons. Instead of ranting about those reasons, I’m just going to insert this quote from Virginia Bergin, the author.
Taken from the discussion guide at the back of the book
(by the way, I think it’s slightly pretentious for a brand new book to have a discussion guide, but whatever):
I chose the subject of water because it is essential to life…and yet waterborne diseases kill about 1.8 million people every year, and 783 million people do not have access to clean water. So for a lot of people, the situation described in H2O already exists.
Can we just express appreciation for science fiction that incorporates real-life issues? First of all, there’s the fact that doing so makes the story a lot more realistic…and therefore more intriguing and terrifying.
But also—and this is important—it helps us to understand problems that we might struggle to wrap our heads around. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve always known that there are a lot of people who do not have access to clean water, but I guess I never quite realised what that would look like. When you take that situation and plop it right into a first-world country like England, it suddenly clicks. Not being able to trust any water that isn’t bottled up and sealed—not even the water from the tap in one’s own home—that’s terrifying. And 100% real.
Of course we also have this scary-awesome sci-fi situation where the rain contains a flesh-eating bacteria from space, and that’s how the water got contaminated. Unlike most of the bacteria that makes water unsafe in real life, it can’t be killed by boiling it or bleaching it or anything. Even that, though, isn’t at all far-fetched. There truly are extremophile bacteria that exist in real life, that survive what would kill most things. The explanation about the asteroid was a decent and plausible one for how the bacteria got into the rain in the first place. So, as an awesome science fiction premise with real-world implications? A+. I loved it. Could have been one of my favourite books.
So, why did I give it a 2/5?
First of all let me say, I liked Ruby’s voice (although it was kind of weird because in some ways she sounded a lot like Cassie Sullivan from The 5th Wave.) She was funny a lot of the time, and this book made me a laugh a whole lot more than I would have expected.
I also love that she cared about the animals. As a ridiculous dog-lover myself, I can definitely see the urge to rescue all the neighbourhood dogs winning out over the knowledge that it’s not necessarily the most practical thing to do. So for that, go Ruby!
I really liked, too, the way she grew up a little in her relationship with her stepfather, eventually even having empathy for how he must have felt when he was reaching out to her and she treated him badly.
All of this was good.
I am definitely not one of those people who think that a girl is shallow or stupid if she cares how she looks. As a matter of fact, I wear makeup (well, some days, anyway. I mean, I try to.) While I can’t say that I love shopping, I do appreciate nice clothing, too. And even though that sort of thing isn’t the most important thing in the world to me, I never judge other girls who care more than I do.
But when it’s the end of the world, when you’re constantly watching the skies for killer rain, when you’ve seen terrible things happen and lost everyone you know, then yes, I do judge you if you’re still concerned about your makeup.
Maybe if she mentioned makeup once or twice, it would have been okay. But it was so constant! She dyed her hair bright red, put on spray tan, then spent the rest of the book complaining because the hair was too red and the spray tan looked orange. And it seemed like every other page she was fixing her makeup. JUST TAKE THE DARN MAKEUP OFF! NO ONE CARES IF YOU’RE WEARING MAKEUP ANYMORE! IN FACT, YOU PROBABLY LOOK RIDICULOUS WEARING MAKEUP AT THIS POINT! YOU’RE LIKE THAT PERSON WHO WEARS MAKEUP CAMPING INSTEAD OF GOING WITHOUT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. NO ONE LIKES THAT PERSON!!!
Her little one-girl shopping spree (i.e., straight-up looting stores for clothing and makeup)? Awful. Could she at least have gotten some practical clothes? No. She got that stupid, impractical sequins dress.
I mean, personally I would try and go for maybe some snowpants or something that would wick away the water. Or at least something practical for running about in. And about 500 of those disposable rain-poncho things. But that’s just me, planning ahead and being practical and all. Silly little me! You’re right, of course, Ruby; you should definitely get that dress your mother never would have allowed.
And the worst part, the absolute worst part, was that she kept wasting water for her makeup shenanigans. It says it right in the synopsis: the supply of safe water is running out. THAT MEANS SAFE WATER IS A PRECIOUS RESOURCE, YOU DIMWIT!!!! WASHING YOUR FACE HAS BEEN RELEGATED TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PRIORITIES LIST!!!!!
I don’t read those YA books that are all about clothes and makeup and stuff. Those do not appeal to me at all. So why is it that I pick up a science fiction novel with an incredible premise, only to be met with constant mentions of makeup, clothing, and gossip magazines? In the middle of an apocalyptic scenario?!
Of all the things to worry and fret over, I’m not kidding you or exaggerating when I say that most of what she worried about was her makeup. It was so ridiculous. I could not relate to her at all, because that would honestly be the last thing I would be worried about in that situation. And I really don’t think I’m the only one.
That wasn’t my only problem with Ruby, however.
Maybe it’s because I’m a nerd. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a little root-for-the-underdogs spirit in me. Maybe it’s because I was one of the intensely uncool kids who got bullied by popular girls to the point where I started having anxiety attacks about school. Or—I don’t know—maybe it’s just because I’m not a heartless jerk who finds it funny when people think they’re cooler than other people and put said people down. Whatever it is, Ruby’s treatment of Darius (this nerdy kid she ends up travelling with throughout the book) made me want to punch a wall.
I’m not sure what the author was going for, but to me, it was a very bad move in the character-sympathy department. Even with all the makeup ridiculousness, I still found Ruby to be a mostly sympathetic character, right up until she ran into Darius. After that, I just couldn’t like her anymore. She wouldn’t shut up about how under normal circumstances a girl like her would never talk to a guy like him, and how repulsive he was, and how uncool, and how he was the last person she’d like to be stuck with. It just never ended.
It amazed me, even then, even in the middle of the most massive trauma that had ever happened to me or the world […] that I even remembered his name, that I even knew who he was. I had never spoken to him before in my life. Why would I? He was the King of Loserville, No, not the king at all [… here, she proceeds to go on about some other random kid who apparently was the King of Loserville, and how weird he was …]
Darius Spratt was not the King of Loserville; he wasn’t even the crown prince; he wasn’t even a lowly serf. He was, like I said, a nobody nerdy freckly freak.
Wow. Heh. Wow.
And it’s bad enough to be a jerk in the narration, but then she was rude to his face, too. About stuff like his epilepsy and the fact that he needs to wear glasses! I’m sorry, but what? (side note: I thought maybe his epilepsy would turn out to be important, but it wasn’t. It was just incidentally mentioned to show that he was such a freak or whatever. That’s extremely objectionable. Extremely. Especially because, if you know anything about medical history, you know that sufferers of epilepsy have been very stigmatised throughout most of it, and have had to put up with a lot of crap. I didn’t realise that was still going on, and I’m extremely upset by it.)
“No! They’re prescription glasses.”
“What? Are your eyes sick too?”
Um, she’s never heard of people needing a prescription? Really? Because it’s pretty common.
I’m very curious to know what the author was going for here. Does she mean for us to laugh and find this all funny? I really, really, really hope not. Because that isn’t funny. That’s not the kind of stuff that kids should be laughing at, and to be honest, I don’t think most kids would. Not to make generalisations, but I think that kids who would be intrigued by a book about extremophile space-bacteria infecting the rain are especially unlikely to find this funny.
I don’t know what the author was thinking, but I do know that this is the kind of character with whom I find it very difficult to sympathise. Ruby goes through the entire book with that attitude. She never stops thinking she’s way better than Darius (not even when she starts to…what? Does she have a crush on him or…? I don’t even know). Never changes or grows in that respect. Even when she’s nice to him, it’s always clear that she’s deigning to be that way, bestowing a favour on “a nobody nerdy freckly freak.”
To be honest, I’d rather have just read this story from Darius’s point of view. He seemed really interesting, but we never got to see him fully, because Ruby’s rude commentary was always in the way.
Okay, Chloe, But Do You Recommend This Or…?
Sorry for all of that ranting!
I want to say just go ahead and read it. The premise is so good; it is what narrowly stops me from pitching this book into a fire. But understand that Ruby is one of the worst YA protagonists that I have come across, if not the worst.
Actually, maybe the worst.
Her voice is funny and sometimes even poetic, but I cannot stand her superior, popular-girl attitude, or her obsession with makeup. Not even a bit.
But it’s almost worth reading just for the creepy, realistic, thought-provoking premise. So if you’re a YA sci-fi kind of reader, then go for it. It’s not a long read. But if you have the opportunity to check it out from a library or borrow it from a friend, I would say that you should definitely do that. I’m not going to get rid of it or anything, but it’s not necessarily a book that I would have bought had I read it first.
So, that’s all! Have a lovely day!