Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 905
At the Morrow home, the television announces the arrival of a massive drought, referred to as the “Tap-Out,” in Southern California. Later that afternoon, Alyssa Morrow, her younger brother Garrett, and her uncle Basil drive to Costco to stock up on water. They find the store crowded and all out of bottled water. Alyssa has the idea to purchase sacks of ice. When a strange man tries to steal Alyssa’s cart from her, Uncle Basil intervenes.
Kelton, Alyssa’s school classmate and next-door neighbor, offers to help her store the ice in the Morrows’ downstairs tub. The two talk of how Kelton’s father has prepared them well for the Tap-Out.
Snapshot: John Wayne
Dalton, his sister Sarah, and their mother wait in line at John Wayne Airport to board their flight to Portland. However, the flight agent informs them that they have been rescheduled to a later flight. They wait until the next morning to board the flight but are rescheduled again and again. Finally, they realize it will be impossible for them to fly out given the severity of the Tap-Out.
From his treehouse, Kelton watches an uncomfortable interaction between his father, Richard McCracken, and the head of the neighborhood Homeowners’ Association, Bill Burnside. Burnside gifts Richard a bottle of Scotch and asks him to share his resources with the rest of the neighborhood, but it is clear that Richard has no intention of doing so.
The next day, Alyssa visits Sofia Rodriguez, a friend of hers who lives in the same neighborhood. She finds Sofia and her family in the middle of packing up their home to leave for Mexico. It is unclear whether they will be back.
At dinner, the Morrows try their best to conserve water. The power goes out for a few seconds, worrying them all. That same night, Alyssa wakes to find Uncle Basil about to leave in his pickup truck. He tells her that he doesn’t want to use up their water and that he will be staying with Daphne, his ex-girlfriend. The two hug and say goodbye.
Snapshot: KZLA News
News Anchor Lyla Singh reports the events of the Tap-Out from the studio. After much self-reflection, she decides to steal one of the network’s helicopters and do aerial reports of what has been happening on the streets, including riots and fires. On the chopper, she texts her producer, “Cover for me, or fire me.”
On the third day, Kelton helps Alyssa with the Morrows’ septic tank problems. He offers to give her a bottle of trap seal liquid to pour down their drain, which Alyssa is thankful for.
Kelton overhears Mr. and Mrs. Morrow talking about the desalination machines that will be set up along the coast. He is skeptical of the amount of water the machines will be able to produce, but does not express his doubts out loud.
While Alyssa and Garrett try to clean the toilet in their downstairs bathroom, Garrett accidentally drops bleach in the tub where they keep their drinking water. After Alyssa informs their parents of the unfortunate news, they realize that Garrett has fled the house out of guilt. Alyssa and Kelton search for Garrett and find him at his friend’s house, which has been abandoned by the owners. Once the siblings are back home, Mr. and Mrs. Morrow prepare to leave for the desalination machines set up in Laguna Beach.
In the middle of target practice with his paintball gun, Kelton observes their neighbor, Roger Malecki, knocking at their door. Roger begs Richard...
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for water, but Richard instead elects to teach him how to convert his cacti garden into drinkable water. This angers Roger, and he moves to charge at Richard. Kelton shoots Roger with the paintball gun before Richard can retrieve the gun hidden in his hip holster.
Dry begins with the image of a dry tap as Alyssa’s mother tries in vain to obtain water from their kitchen sink. When Alyssa asks her father to look into fixing the sink, he asks, “Can’t it wait?” This is a fitting opening scene to the novel, as readers are shown that it is the nature of people to put off problems that require immediate attention. What seems to be a small household problem, however, will very soon escalate into a disaster of statewide proportions. In fact, this theme of lack of foresight and ignorant self-assurance is something that recurs throughout the novel, as readers witness how the Morrows’ neighbors—and the rest of California, by extension—are completely caught off guard by the Tap-Out.
In part 1, readers learn that the McCrackens, the Morrows’ next-door neighbors, are the only ones who have prepared for the Tap-Out. This is in large part due to Richard’s belief that there are only three types of people in the world: Sheep, Wolves, and Herders. As a self-assigned “Herder,” Richard has taken extra measures to protect and provide for his family in the event of a crisis. However, his unwillingness to help those around him will ultimately lead to his undoing. This is foreshadowed in Richard’s tense interaction with Roger Malecki, which would have turned violent had Kelton not deescalated it. It is through the McCrackens that the novel will assert that personal preparedness isn’t enough—one must also be willing to work toward teamwork and community integration.