Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien

16 year old Ann thinks she may be the last person on Earth after a nuclear bomb destroys all the surrounding areas around her self-sustaining valley. But then, Mr. Loomis shows up in his anti-radiation suit with his anti-radiation gear and Ann starts to realize there may be worse things than being alone.

In this diary format novel from the early 1970s, Ann details her daily life on her farm in post-apocalyptic America, made more exciting, scary, and worth writing (and reading) about by Mr. Loomis’ arrival.

“Most of the time I didn’t write, because one day was just like the day before, and sometimes I thought – what’s the use of writing anyway, when nobody is ever going to read it? Then I would remind myself: sometime, years from now, you’re going to read it.” (p 5)

At first, Ann is hopeful that Mr. Loomis will turn out to be a good partner – someone she can repopulate the planet with. But then he does something stupid that puts his life in danger, and something crazy that puts Ann’s in danger, and suddenly the stakes are raised.

Despite the diary format, the simple story is a nail-biter and seriously psychologically twisted. However, I could never fully immerse myself in the proceedings because I was trying to wrap my brain around the unlikelihood of such a self-sustaining valley existing. I mean, seriously…does this valley have its own personal clouds that were not affected by radiation? Do these clouds only suck up moisture from the safe part of the creek and not from the poisoned part of the creek? It never actually rains in the 2 ½ months we read about, and yet all the plants and trees are growing nicely. Am I the only one bothered by this?

Also, and I realize this was the 70s, but Ann is remarkably passive when it comes to Mr. Loomis. For all of her considerable survival skills, this passivity was rather infuriating, especially considering the ending (which I won’t spoil).

So well-worth reading for its “classic” status, but not one of the most satisfying the genre has to offer.  I'd give it 2 Zombie Chickens - Entertaining but not essential.

16 comments:

~Jennifer~ said...

I honestly didn't even notice the, now that you mention it, complete impossibility of the story. I just thought - lucky for her that she happened to live in that self-sustaining valley.

I completely agree about her passiveness. All I wanted to her to do was shoot him in the head.

Anastasia said...

oh my GOD this is the book! The book I've been trying to remember the title of for like ten years! :D omg!

bermudaonion said...

I don't read much dystopia, so I want what I read to be good - I think I'll skip this one.

Rachel Star said...

I think it's really important for a dystopian book to be realistic/ believable , otherwise it's a lot less effective. Good review! By the way, loving the Dystopian themed August events =)

Janicu said...

Ah, Z for Zachariah. We had to read this in English class and I think it probably counts as the first dystopian I ever read. I still remember the story, which is pretty good considering my awful memory. I do completely agree with the feeling I had with reading it that there was a plot hole in terms of her being in a place where she was able to keep surviving. I remember us discussing her passivity in class and deciding it was because she was alone and young and so she deferred to him, even though he didn't deserve it.

Lenore said...

Jennifer - Exactly!

Anastasia - Glad I could help :)

Kathy - That's probably wise.

Rachel - Me too. I can definitely suspend my disbelief for some fantastical plots, but they have to have their own kind of logic if they aren't based on reality.

Janicu - Really? After living by herself for a whole year beforehand she's just going to let this guy walk all over her? I'm not convinced.

My 5 Monkeys(Julie) said...

wow its started the zombie chickens and have never heard of this book..must find it

Carla said...

I love dystopia books to be based loosely on reality, but i'm not adverse to them being really far fetched, but when it gets to seem like it couldn't be possible (depending on the storyline), which it seems like in this case, it totally throws me off. I'd spend the majority of the time reading this book wondering why the radiation never affected them, and wondering why they never wondered why. I have heard a few good things about this book, but if I ever do read it, it'll be a library check out for sure. Thanks for the review :)

Rosaline said...

I read this earlier in the year, and while I really enjoyed the journal format, I agree that I had some trouble suspending my disbelief about the circumstances surrounding her survival.

That said, O'Brien does a stellar job making Mr. Loomis uber-creepy, and I loved how Anne comes into her own by the end.

Silvia said...

I'm still not used to dystopian books (although I have a lot of them in my wishlist since this year and the next one are coming out some that look amazing) so I think I'll pass for now. I kind of was reminded of Jericho while reading the summary.

Trisha said...

I tend to like books that can be described as "psychologically twisted", but I think I might pass on this one.

Zibilee said...

I think that it's kind of neat that you discovered a dystopian novel from the 70's and think that although there are some unlikely situations in it, I might really like to read this one. The fact that it's psychologically twisted also hooks me in as well. Great review, Lenore! I appreciated your honesty.

Ladytink_534 said...

Oh! I read your review before I even registered the title and author name! This is the same man who wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH that won a Newbery and was made into the movie The Secret of NIMH. I've always meant to read something else by him.

Nayuleska said...

I'm adding this one to my list - I didn't think of impossibility of it all, but I still think I might enjoy it.

Lenore said...

Carla - That was my reaction exactly. It just really threw me off and I couldn't immerse myself in the story.

Ladytink - That's right! He's the Rats of Nimh guy. He died before finishing this book and his daughter finished it. The copyright is in her name in fact.

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

I read this one a while back and had much the same reaction you did. I didn't believe in the valley at all, it was pretty illogical. I also just didn't like the diary format for this one. For being a diary, we sure didn't get an insight to any of the main character's feelings... I agree with you - it's a book you read because it's a classic in the genre, not because it's very good. I got a pretty rude comment on my review of this one, too!