Dry Summary

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman is a young adult novel about a group of teens dealing with the effects of a water crisis called the Tap-Out.

  • When access to water is shut off across California, Alyssa Morrow and her younger brother, Garrett, go looking for their parents along with their neighbor Kelton.
  • Joined by a drifter named Jacqui and a boy named Henry, they drive toward Kelton’s family’s emergency shelter but find it empty of supplies.
  • Henry betrays the others, who are saved from dehydration and forest fires by a water bomber. After the Tap-Out, the Morrow family is reunited.


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Last Updated on October 13, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1109

Dry takes place in California over the course of six days. Teenager Alyssa Morrow lives in a suburban neighborhood with her parents, her uncle Basil, and her younger brother, Garrett. The television informs them that the state of California is to undergo a catastrophic drought for an indefinite period of...

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Dry takes place in California over the course of six days. Teenager Alyssa Morrow lives in a suburban neighborhood with her parents, her uncle Basil, and her younger brother, Garrett. The television informs them that the state of California is to undergo a catastrophic drought for an indefinite period of time, referred to as the “Tap-Out.” None of the taps in the state of California yield will water any longer. That same afternoon, Alyssa, Garrett, and their uncle Basil drive to Costco to stock up. The store is all out of water, but luckily, Alyssa has the idea to fill up their cart with sacks of ice.

Kelton McCracken, Alyssa’s next-door neighbor, helps her plug their downstairs bathtub with sealant. There, they store the bags of ice. Kelton then brags about how his father has prepared them well for the Tap-Out.

On the second day, Richard McCracken, Kelton’s father, has a tense conversation with one of the neighbors, who tries to convince Richard to share his resources with the rest of the neighborhood. At night, Alyssa catches her uncle Basil leaving in his pickup truck. He reasons that he doesn’t want to deplete their resources.

On the third day, Garrett accidentally drops bleach inside their bathtub of ice water. Mr. and Mrs. Morrow prepare to leave for Laguna Beach, where the government has set up desalination machines to convert seawater to drinkable water.

Richard has a heated exchange with a neighbor who has come to him for water, and Kelton shoots the neighbor with his paintball gun before the situation can escalate. At dinner that night, Richard and his wife, Marybeth, fight over whether to share their resources with the neighbors. Meanwhile, Kelton goes to check on Alyssa and Garrett.

At the Morrows’, the power suddenly goes out. Kelton realizes that the power outage extends to the whole neighborhood–except for his house, which has its own generator. He retrieves a handgun from under his bed and stays the night with Alyssa and Garrett.

On the fourth day, Alyssa, Garret, and Kelton decide to bike to Laguna Beach and search for Mr. and Mrs. Morrow. The three are astonished to find the beach deserted, with military personnel guarding the broken desalination machines. They then try to rescue a middle-aged man from three teenagers who want the keys to his BMW. In the midst of the altercation, a strange girl appears and takes hold of Kelton’s gun. She uses it to scare away the perpetrators and obtain the man’s keys. Spotting the infected wound on her arm, Kelton offers to give the girl antibiotics if she drives them home.

The strange girl introduces herself as Jacqui. The four use the man’s BMW to drive back to the McCrackens’, where Kelton convinces his parents to shelter Alyssa, Garrett, and Jacqui. With Marybeth’s blessing, Alyssa smuggles a bag full of water bottles to the neighborhood meeting. There, she sees how the adults fight over her water.

At dinner, Richard announces that he, Marybeth, and Kelton will be leaving for their bug-out–an emergency shelter–at daybreak. On Kelton’s insistence, Richard agrees to leave the house to Alyssa and the others. A text alert then informs them that the state of California has been placed under martial law.

That night, they are awakened by the sound of motion detector alarms. Dozens of people stand outside the McCracken house. An intruder opens the front door, and Richard fires at him without thinking. It turns out to be Brady, Kelton’s older brother, come to warn them about the mob. As Richard and Marybeth grieve over Brady’s body, the mob runs inside to raid the house. Alyssa, Garrett, Jacqui, and Kelton climb into the BMW. Since they need four-wheel drive to reach the bug-out, they decide to borrow Uncle Basil’s truck.

On the fifth day, the four arrive at Dove Canyon, where Uncle Basil is staying with his girlfriend, Daphne. They discover that Uncle Basil, Daphne, and the other residents of the subdivision are sick with dysentery from having consumed contaminated water. Uncle Basil reveals that he had traded his truck for bottles of Agua Viva with Henry, a teenager living in a “McMansion” up the hill. The four muscle their way into Henry’s home and demand the truck back. Henry buys his way into their group with a large sealed box of what he claims to be Agua Viva bottles. In truth, only Agua Viva brochures are inside.

On their way to the bug-out, the group encounters a roadblock manned by military personnel. They are herded into an overcrowded evacuation center, but Henry finds a way to retrieve their truck, and all five of them are able to escape.

A few hours before nightfall, the group discovers the truck is low on gas. They decide to drive back to the freeway to siphon gasoline from abandoned cars. There, they come across a camp of civilians led by Charity, the “Water Angel.” Charity helps them acquire gasoline, and they stay the night in her encampment.

The group arrives at the bug-out the next day. However, they are dismayed to find the food and water stores all empty. Kelton deduces that Brady must have stayed there for months prior to the Tap-Out. Left with no choice, they open Henry’s box of Agua Viva. Upon discovering that he has tricked them, Kelton subdues Henry and binds his wrists.

They decide to travel to the San Gabriel Dam, which is just ten miles west. On the way there, they spot two dangerous-looking men beside a camper. Henry escapes from the group and steals the truck keys, which he trades with the men for a sip of water. Before the men are able to take the truck, however, Kelton shoots them both dead.

About a mile away from the reservoir, they are forced to leave the truck behind, and a wildfire appears in their path. Jacqui chooses to walk through the fire, but Alyssa, Garrett, and Kelton go around it and climb up a steep hill. When they reach the top, however, they find themselves stranded on a cliff. The three feel hopeless and resign themselves to death. Suddenly, a water bomber flying overhead showers them with water, putting out the fire behind them. They quench their thirst on the falling water.

The epilogue takes place two weeks after the Tap-Out. Alyssa and Garrett are reunited with Mr. and Mrs. Morrow, and Kelton and Alyssa have grown to be close friends. Finally, it is hinted that Jacqui is alive and recovering in a hospital from her burns.


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1842

Author: Jane Harper (b. ca. 1980)

Publisher: Flatiron Books (New York). 326 pp.

Type of work: Novel

Time: Present day

Locale: Kiewarra, Australia

When Aaron Falk’s childhood friend Luke Hadler dies, Aaron is called home by a cryptic message from Luke’s father. Within hours, Aaron is drawn into an investigation which will plunge him into the past and bring unexpected complications to light.

Principal characters

Luke Hadler, a sheep farmer

The Dry

Courtesy of Macmillan

Aaron Falk, his childhood friend, a federal investigator

Ellie Deacon, his childhood friend

Gretchen Shoner, his former girlfriend

Greg Raco, police sergeant in Kiewarra

Scott Whitlam, Kiewarra’s school principal

Gerry and Barb Hadler, his parents

Karen and Billy Hadler, his wife and son

Mal Deacon, Ellie’s father

Grant Dow, Ellie’s cousin

When Aaron Falk, a federal investigator in Australia, is called back to his hometown of Kiewarra for the funeral of his former best friend Luke Hadler, he finds himself in the midst of a murder investigation. Evidence suggests that Luke killed his wife and son before turning his gun on himself, but Luke’s mother cannot accept this as the truth, so she asks Aaron to investigate Luke’s financials to see if a debt collector might have been out for revenge. As Aaron walks through Luke’s home, the murder scene, with police sergeant Greg Raco, he learns that several strange clues suggest that Luke may have been innocent. First, the bullets were not Luke’s usual brand. Second, Billy’s room was searched before the boy was found and shot—an odd action for a father who knew his son. Third, Luke’s thirteen-month-old daughter was left alive; Raco wonders if this is because she is too young to give evidence or identify the killer. Further, Luke’s fingerprints on the murder weapon are suspiciously clear, not smudged as one would expect.

As Aaron becomes embroiled in the accusations against his old friend, the past haunts him, and he wonders how much he really knew about Luke Hadler. The earlier death of another friend, Ellie Deacon, becomes central to the new investigation as well. Whether Ellie’s death was a murder or a suicide is still unknown, and Aaron and his father were blamed for the death at the time. Now that he has returned to Kiewarra, Aaron is pulled into a double investigation of the deaths of Ellie and Luke, which reveals secrets that rock the small farming town.

The Dry, Harper’s debut novel, was given the Australian Book Industry Award in 2017 for Book of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year. It was also named the Indie Book Awards Book of the Year and Indie Debut Fiction Book of the Year for 2017. Other recognition come from the Ned Kelly Awards, where it was named Best First Fiction for 2017; the Sisters in Crime Australia 2017 Davitt Awards, where it was named Best Adult Crime Novel Readers’ Choice; the Wheeler Centre, who gave it the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript; and the UK Crime Writers’ Association, which gave the book the Gold Digger Award.

Critical reception of the novel was largely positive, particularly praising the unpredictable and intricate plot. The Booklist review, for instance, called it a “page-turner with a shocker of an ending” and compared Harper’s writing to that of James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, Arthur Upfield, and Nancy Pickard. Kirkus Reviews lauded it as “a nail-biting thriller” and says “Harper plots this novel with laser precision.” Publishers Weekly praised it as “a suspenseful tale of sound and fury as riveting as it is horrific.” Janet Maslin’s New York Times reviews suggests that the novel is “Sherlockian” in its development of a plot that includes a “constant recovery of forgotten facts and little clues” while it “skips along on frequent changes of focus.” Some reviews were more critical, however; Wilda Williams, for Library Journal, wrote that the book had “slow, tedious pacing; poor character development; [and a] lack of suspense or surprise.”

One of the novel’s main thematic ideas revolves around secrets; Kiewarra contains many undisclosed confidences that trouble Aaron. One of the most important secrets is from the past: Aaron and Luke’s alibis for the night of Ellie’s death. Though Aaron had been out fishing by himself, Luke came to him after Ellie’s body had been discovered and told him to say they were together. This protected Aaron from prosecution, but it also protected Luke. Now, Luke’s father reveals that he knew the boys were lying, and that he had seen Luke coming from the river area where Ellie was found on the night she died. He also reveals that someone else saw Luke, but that other person has also kept quiet in the years since Ellie’s death. Another secret comes out as Aaron reunites with Gretchen, Luke’s high school girlfriend. Now a single mother with a five-year-old son, Gretchen welcomes Aaron back to town with open arms. However, while having dinner at her home one night, Aaron stumbles across the true identity of her son’s father, a fact that ultimately tears their renewed friendship apart. Other secrets lead to the revelation of an unexpected suspect in the Hadler family’s deaths.

A second issue explored in the novel is trust. When the word “Falk” was found on a piece of paper in Ellie Deacon’s room, Aaron’s father and Aaron himself became the main suspects in her death. Ellie’s father and cousin focused on the Falk men despite a lack of real evidence suggesting their involvement in the case. After the Falks were harassed to the point that they feared for their lives, they fled town. Aaron’s father, however, did not trust that his son was innocent, and their relationship was forever stained by the shadow of that distrust. In the years following Ellie’s death, Aaron and Luke met several times, and each time Aaron brought up the topic of where Luke had really been that night, Luke merely repeated the alibi he came up with years before. His refusal to reveal his whereabouts to Aaron keeps the men from returning to their earlier ease with each other. The lack of trust, tied up with the community’s terrible secrets, links together the flashbacks Harper introduces throughout the novel.

The mystery is enhanced with just enough glimpses into the past to make readers question the veracity of the suspicions surrounding the Hadler family’s deaths. For instance, though Aaron does not want to believe that his friend would have become so desperate as to kill his own wife and child, he does remember childhood instances that suggest Luke’s capability to do so. Luke’s own father’s fear that the man was capable of murder-suicide further suggests a darkness that could have led to such an outcome. Ellie’s unsolved death when she, Aaron, and Luke were sixteen adds another layer of uncertainty. Aaron’s own innocence in Ellie’s death, despite the town’s conviction that he was involved, is one of the reasons he continues to search for answers, but his tunnel vision about the earlier death may undermine his ability to solve the more recent ones. As the story unfolds, readers are thrust into the past through the memories of varied characters, including Luke Hadler himself. Harper’s skillful integration of memory with present day action keeps readers wondering what the outcome will reveal.

Aaron’s homecoming is fraught with persecution from people who are still convinced that he killed Ellie, but he is also reminded of good times and he meets newer community members who could easily become friends. Greg Raco, the police detective who doubts Luke’s guilt, encourages Falk to investigate at his side. McMurdo, Aaron’s temporary landlord, also befriends him, and Scott Whitlam, the school’s new principal, seems sympathetic as well. Each of these characters plays a surprising role in helping Aaron solve the murders of Ellie and the Hadlers.

As Aaron has experienced since Ellie’s death at sixteen, taking responsibility for one’s actions is often less popular than blaming someone else. Mal Deacon, Ellie’s father, blames everyone for his daughter’s death, but he does not accept that his abuse of the girl drove her away. The townspeople jumped on Aaron and his father as responsible for Ellie’s death, refusing to accept that there was no real proof. Grant Dow, Ellie’s cousin, holds Aaron responsible because Aaron’s last name was on a piece of paper in Ellie’s room, but he refuses to see that what seems to be his own name on a piece of paper in Karen Hadler’s room might point to him as a suspect in the Hadlers’ deaths. Even Gretchen, Luke’s high school girlfriend and one of the only people in town who is sympathetic to Aaron, refuses to acknowledge that her silence when Ellie died had long-lasting repercussions. Most frighteningly, the irresponsible actions of a weak person led to a truly evil act that had lifelong consequences for too many in Kiewarra and beyond.

The book’s title refers to the drought that has plagued Kiewarra for two years. The effects of this weather issue lead some to believe that Luke had lost hope financially and acted out as a result. It has, more importantly, plunged the whole area into economic downfall that leads to raised tempers and suspicions. Not only has the lack of water limited farming opportunities, but the threat of fire and the horrific damage that it could bring hangs over the heads of everyone who has remained in the unfriendly town.

Jane Harper’s success with this debut piece suggests that she will be a strong voice in the canon of mystery novels. Fans of this book will look forward to the potential of a film version, which has been discussed with the author, and to Harper’s second novel Force of Nature, also starring Aaron Falk, set to release in 2017–18.

Review Sources

  • Maslin, Janet. “‘The Dry,’ a Page-Turner of a Mystery Set in a Parched Australia.” Review of The Dry, by Jane Harper. The New York Times, 9 Jan. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/books/review-dry-jane-harper.html. Accessed 22 Nov. 2017.
  • Murphy, Jane. Review of The Dry, by Jane Harper. Booklist, vol. 113, no. 5, 2016, pp. 30–31. Book Review Digest Plus, search.ebscohost.com?direct=true&db=brd&AN=119163072&site=ehost-live. Accessed 22 Nov. 2017.
  • Review of The Dry, by Jane Harper. Kirkus Reviews, vol. 86, no. 20, 2017, p. 5. Book Review Digest Plus, search.ebscohost.com?direct=true&db=brd&AN=118735668&site=ehost-live. Accessed 22 Nov. 2017.
  • Review of The Dry, by Jane Harper. Publishers Weekly, vol. 263, no. 28, 2016, p. 45. Book Review Digest Plus, search.ebscohost.com?direct=true&db=brd&AN=116769426&site=ehost-live. Accessed 22 Nov. 2017.
  • Williams, Wilda. Review of The Dry, by Jane Harper. Library Journal, vol. 141, no. 19, 2016, p. 83. Education Full Text, search.ebscohost.com?direct=true&db=eft&AN=119492599&site=ehost-live. Accessed 22 Nov. 2017.
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