Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Z for Zachariah

by Robert C. O'Brien

A couple years ago, the library got a paperback copy of this book with a cover that made me think it might have zombies in it. The title, of course, hints at that a little too. The back-cover description doesn't use the Z-word, but it tells of a young woman all alone in a post-apocalyptic world and the arrival of a stranger. So I'm still thinking maybe he's a zombie!

If I'm recalling correctly, it says in the foreword or afterword, or one those kind of things, that the book was actually finished by the author's family for posthumous publication. The story is pretty bleak compared to the author's better-known Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (itself better-known, perhaps, as The Secret of NIMH, the title of the 1982 animated film). I'd argue that the stories have a lot in common, but this young adult book is definitely less fuzzy and more mature than the cartoon-friendly younger kids' book.

Z for Zachariah doesn't have much explicit violence, but there are references to "off-screen" violence and a pervasive sense of barely-restrained potential violence. Creepy, but no zombies, and with an ending that's either sad, disappointing, or both — which I mean in a positive way, in the sense that it's not a tidy ending or the one you'll find yourself wishing for, even if you think happy endings are lame.

Like zombie or vampire movies, or pretty much anything apocalyptic, it could be considered an allegory and therefore potential book report fodder. It could be read fairly quickly and, I think, would hold the attention of most teens.

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