Book Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)
Sixteen-year-old Anne Burden has been living alone in her family’s farming valley ever since nuclear war left everything around the edges dead. She’s created a quiet, calm life for herself and the animals left alive until one day she sees smoke on the horizon. A man enters the valley in a radiation-proof suit. At first Anne is cautious but then happy to no longer be alone. Soon, however, the man’s sinister side starts to show.
This is a complex, thought-provoking with a surprise ending that is a bit….off-putting.
Anne Burden is a surprisingly pulled together gal for someone who just lost everyone and everything she knew to nuclear holocaust. She has a surprising amount of faith and is accepting of her fate. Her buddhist-like nature is admirable, but does seem a touch unrealistic.
There are many complexities in the plot that have no easy answers and keep the reader thinking. Is the man a bad guy or has the radiation poisoning simply addled his brains? Is it best to stay put where you are temporarily safe or take a risk and seek out other survivors? What things are ok to do to survive and what things are not? These deep questions, questions that have nothing to do with the school dance or which boy to choose are refreshing to see in YA. Putting the main character into extreme situations allows O’Brien to bring up more serious life questions. Although I don’t always agree with Anne’s decisions, I do respect her thought process.
The ending came kind of out of left field for me, and I am still dissatisfied with it. Anne’s decision to run instead of to stay and fight is an odd choice for a YA book. In fact the book reads very pacifistic, almost dangerously so. Running is not always an option. Sometimes you have to stand and fight. Hold your ground. Similarly, I do not believe the man would have given Anne any genuine tips on which direction to go out of sudden remorse. It seems out of character and done simply to give a more eloquent couple of closing paragraphs.
Thus, the book is a fast-paced read with important life questions. The main character makes some questionable decisions, though, and I am not entirely comfortable with the ultimate message it contains. I recommend it to fans of YA or post-apocalyptic fiction capable of taking the message with a grain of salt.
4 out of 5 stars