Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Z for Zachariah was a very suspenseful book. From the moment I started it, I had a knot in my stomach. For most of my life, I lived with my fear of nuclear war and its aftermath. As a child of the 80s, I remember that Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. Were the Soviets going to push the button, or the Americans? Either way, we'd both lose. I remember everyone in school was watching "The Day After Tomorrow," and I was afraid to watch it, but I heard all the ugly details. I inadvertently watched the other nuclear war movie, "Testament," and I still remember how utterly hopeless and depressing it was. I didn't want to die slowly and painfully from radiation poison, nor did I want to be instantly incinerated in the first blast, or have to survive a nuclear winter. It was a very ugly thought that I've tried to push way to the back of my mind. Well, this book brought it all back for me. So, I could deeply sympathize with Ann, the protagonist of this story.
And it turns out that her worst threat is not the aftermath of the nuclear war. It's the fact that the only other apparent survivor of the holocaust is dangerously insane. Ann showed a lot of fortitude and intelligence, in my opinion. I didn't really consider her overly naive, considering she grew up in a sheltered world. I think she did an admirable job of keeping herself alive. How on earth could she be prepared to do deal with a crazy man who decided that everything left in the world belonged to him, and was not hesitant about using violence or ugly methods to make sure it remained in his possession? It was a tough road to travel for this young woman. She had a choice to let this man succumb to radiation poisoning, or to nurse him through it, even knowing he was possibly a murderer. She did what she thought was right, although that action contributed to the destruction of her small, safe world. I appreciate the ethical dilemma that the author presents in this story. Do we abandon all the qualities that make humanity worthwhile, because the civilized world as we know it has gone away? Should we embrace violence as the best solution, because it's the most expedient one? These are all very pertinent issues to Ann in this book, and I had to work through them as I read.
I was literally on the edge of my seat, as I saw how things were unfolding. I felt a rage at Mr. Loomis, who came to Ann's valley, availed himself of her generosity and good heart, and decided that he was entitled to all of it, and he could take control of everything. Oh, I definitely understand that battle that Ann faced. People controlling others is a real problem for me. I felt her pain as she decided that she would have to leave everything was familiar and she'd worked hard for, because she refused to be enslaved to another person, not for any reason.
I found Z for Zachariah to be a powerful read. It did resonate with me, and that wasn't always a comfortable feeling. The issues of isolation, fear for the future, defining who one is when the world is no longer the same, and having control of one's life and destiny were very well-handled here. I think Ann could be a metaphor for any young woman who is facing choices in her life that will define her present and future. I would recommend this book to young adults and to adults, because it has a very timely message, and it was good, albeit nerve-racking at times, entertainment. Also, readers who enjoy stories in which the characters have to use their wits and energies (physical and mental) to survive on the land, and in a hostile environment, will enjoy this story. I'm very glad I got the opportunity to read Z for Zachariah.
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