Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Z for Zacharia by Robert C. O'Brien

Title: Z for Zachariah
Author: Robert C. O'Brien
Series: N/A
Pages: 240
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Format: Paperback
Genre: Dystopian
Source: Library

There is no one left alive...I know, because after the war ended, and all the telephones went dead, my family went to see what was happening. They never came back...Ann Burden is sixteen and, as far she she knows, the only person left in the world. The nuclear radiation that destroyed the rest of the world has not touched the valley where she lives, and so she has remained, surviving as best she knows how, for the past year.The smoke from a distant campfire shatters Ann's solitude. Someone else is still alive, and making his way toward the valley: John Loomis, a scientist, protected from the radiation by a "safe-suit." He asserts his will almost immediately. And as his behavior becomes more and more extreme - finally culminating in violent confrontation - Ann must choose how she will live, in a world unlike any she has known.

My Review:
Wow. What an excellent, creative, suspenseful, and terrifying dystopian novel. I picked up Z for Zacharia because of the cover at first. Nothing creepier than a haz-mat mask right? I kept it because of the author. For those of you who don't remember, O'Brien is the author of Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of Nhym and the sequels and such. The Rats of Nhym was a staple in my elementary school. All the 3rd graders read it and talked about it and it was such a great book. Z for Zacharia has the same cool writing style and creeping suspense that attracted me as a kid and still makes me love a book as an adult. This book in particular fits right in with the current trend favoring post-apocalypse and dystopian societies, and it is so timeless that I feel like it could have been written this year. I was actually completely shocked to find out that it was first published in the 70's. I guess that's the good thing about a farmland setting, because though the world changes quite quickly in big cities, small family-owned farms have been growing vegetables and plowing with tractors since the 1920's with very little changes to actual technology on such a small farm.

The characters are a tad two-dimensional. Despite only having two characters, neither of them have very much of a back-story or depth of character. Anne has more, which is understandable since she is the narrator, but though she is more emotive and easier to identify with, she lacks that certain oomph that makes a stand out main character. Mr. Loomis is even more of a standoffish character. We learn only enough information about him to secure him in the role of bad-guy and then leave it at that. I want to know what he was like before he had to spend months wading through dead bodies. I want to know what he thinks and why he acts the way he does. The book was quite short, and I feel like with a little bit more polishing, Anne and Mr. Loomis could have grown from good characters to amazing ones.  Though part of me feels like that vagueness was there so that the overall mood of the novel would be even more desolate...I'm not sure...I also wish there would have been more information about the actual war and bombings. I understand that Anne wouldn't logically know much about these things, being that she was alone and secluded in the valley since the beginning of the war. It still would have been nice to know though. I do feel like the mystery and unknown aspects of most of the plot definitely upped the tension level though.

I'm not going to lie, I spent a huge part of this book being totally freaked out. There is such a desolate and solitary mood that makes the piece eerie and frightening, even though you can't quite put your finger on why. First of all, the callous way Anne talks about her family dying is very painful. She can't leave the valley she was born in because the radiation from nuclear fallout has killed everything alive for miles around. Her family went out to explore the deadness and never came back, leaving her completely and utterly alone. Anne isn't a very emotional character, but she practically bleeds a raw and hopeless pain. She is so alone and dead inside that she just makes you want to curl up and die. This makes for a really desolate book, but at the same time, it is an extremely moving and powerful one. Then when Loomis comes into the picture, he brings in a whole to kind of suspense and fear to the story . He just makes you uneasy the entire time you're reading about him. Everything from his secretive manner to his violent tendencies to overreact makes the hair on the back of your neck stick up and you just want to scream at Anne to kick him out and save herself.

 What I didn't understand was why Anne let Mr. Loomis control her at all. Sure, he had a gun, but she had two guns, three knives, and knowledge and familiarity with the valley. She was letting him live in her house and feeding him her food. You would think that the guy would be grateful for the help and the company after so long alone, but instead he starts bossing Anne around and controlling what farm equipment to use. Then he starts getting all handsy and creepy and Anne just forgives him! She thinks to herself, "oh well, I'll just let him have the house then, I can just go live somewhere else." UM...NO! It was HER has LOCKS...why wouldn't she tell him to get the heck out and lock the door behind him?At first I just thought that Anne was a dumb and passive character, but then I got to thinking about when the book was actually written. I feel like back in the 70's, a young girl of sixteen would have a much harder time standing up to a man. Even today, it would be hard to stand up to an adult, but back then, if the man wanted to do things his way, he would go all caveman and get exactly what he wanted. Nowadays, I feel like girls are more independent and able to stand up for themselves and I bet if the same book was written after 2000, Anne would have been a much stronger character and I think the plot would have gone a whole new direction.

One of the reasons this story is so scary is because we could easily do this to our world, and unlike a lot of dystopian books, this kind of situation could happen in the blink of an eye. All it would take is one H-bomb and entire countries could be wiped out in seconds.Currently, the amount of nuclear weapons we have in the world is enough to completely destroy the earth 7 times. Not to mention the liklihood of surviving nuclear radiation within 100 miles of an H-bomb is less than 3%...its a rather terrifying concept. Sometimes it is hard to see how the evil characters in dystopias get the way they are. You can the people in The Capital really enjoy watching children kill each other in The Hunger Games? You don't understand how a normal human could become so twisted to participate in or to allow all sorts of crimes against humanity, yet this book shows how easily the lack of civilization can turn normal humans into monsters as they struggle for survival.
 I give Z for Zacharia 4 Keys. It is an uneasy and terrifying look into life after the apocalypse. It is a lot more realistic than most of the dystopians out there today, and I think it is more realistic than most. There are all different levels of tension that scare you in too many ways to count. Though the characters are left a little unformed for my taste, I feel like their description really created a somber and barren mood that helped the novel be such a strong look at human nature. Z for Zacharia was a truly fantastic book and anyone who likes dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories will eat it up!

1 comment:

  1. I like apocalypse type books and movies too. Thanks for the review.