Z for Zachariah Reviews
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In Robert C. O'Brien's Z For Zachariah, the author presents a life
and death situation. There has been a nuclear explosion and Anne, a girl who was left at
home when her family went to investigate the situation, thinks that she is the only person
left on Earth. Then she sees a man coming. She's so excited. "I wanted to run down
the hill calling, I'm here I'm here, and I wanted to touch his face," she says on
page 23. She then thinks better of it and decides to camp out in the woods, watching him.
Professional Reviews 1976-1984
Anatomy of Wonder, 1976, p. 328-329
A post--catastrophe story. Believing she may be the only survivor of a devastating
war, Ann Burden is pleased to see a man enter the Burden valley and decides to befriend
him. Shocked, when, after all she has done for him, he tries to rape her, Ann is forced to
leave the valley, hoping to come across other survivors. Sensitive transformation
subject into a tragic study of human behavior in the face of destruction and possible
extinction; use of journal to record struggle for understanding, carefully paced
narrative, and characterization of protagonist are distinctive. 14-16.
English Journal, V. 67, December 1978, p. 83
Robert O'Brien's Z FOR ZACHARIAH, a winner of the Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers
of America, takes readers very slowly into a situation of increasing menace. The
protagonist, a young woman, believes herself to be the last survivor of a nuclear
holocaust until she sees a stranger in a special suit making his way out of the
surrounding desolation into the farm valley that is her home and that has miraculously
survived contamination. She watches the stranger carefully from a distance, only going to
his side when it is evident that he has become ill. The she bends all of her will to
insuring his survival; a return to loneliness becomes unthinkable to her. But very
gradually it becomes evident that the stranger is compelled to seek control over her: He
will starve her out; he will hunt her as a quarry; any evidence of her unwillingness to
submit to his rule is perceived as a threat to his survival. A chilling and
through-provoking book. (It might make a good film.) O'Brien makes every detail add to his
plot's believability just as he did in the might lighter (and delightful) MRS.
THE RATS OF NIMH (Atheneum).
English Journal, V. 69, September 1980, p. 87
Z for Zachariah by Robert O'Brien proved that young adult novelists could, in the
tradition of Brave New World and 1984, use a science fiction format to look at profound
social and personal issues. Concentrating on humans being caught in special and revealing
situations, Zachariah looked at current social problems and, like Moby Dick and Gulliver's
Travels, used the device of isolation, here caused by nuclear war, to explore humanity.
O'Brien's novel is a wonderful exploration of youth and middle age, male and female,
independence and control.
Masterworks of Children's Literature, v. 8, 1983, p. 30
...Two stories will serve as exemplars of twentieth-century changes in childhood and
children's books. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908 ends with Anne
quoting Browning: "God's in His heaven, all's right with the world." Robert C.
O'Brien's Z for Zachariah (1974) is the story of another orphan named Ann, a survivor of
an atomic war that has wiped out her family. Ann is alone on the family's sheltered farm
when another survivor appears, an adult male. A suspicious, tense collaboration begins.
The man's behavior becomes more and more threatening until finally he demands sex. On the
novel's last page, Ann flees into the radioactive unknown. All is not right with her
[Taken from 'Falling Out', reviews of Z for Zachariah and Brother in the Land]
...Z for Zachariah, first published in 1975, is a welcome reissue. On the face of
it, the plot is implausible: one New England valley surviving destruction unscathed; its
sole inhabitant an adolescent girl who knows how to farm and delights in Gray and Jane
Austen; the last man (hence the title) arriving in his unique radiation-proof suit.
However, Anne relates her own story in a style that is as plain and sure as the moral
sense with which she responds to her visitor. The reference to Jane Austen is not
coincidental, because it is on the scrupulous honesty of its language that this novel
depends for its credibility. And it is credible, so much so that one never questions if
for a moment.
Times Literary Supplement, April 13th, 1984, p. 414
...The man who arrives in Anne's valley in Z for Zachariah is a nuclear scientist;
single-minded and practical, he regards everything in the valley, including her, as
breeding stock. When she resists, he tries to hunt her down, destroying her refuge and
even burning her books. He represents the people who have made disaster possible by
suppressing conscience and imagination in the service of research. Anne really does
reverence life as she rescues a bird or stands spellbound under the apple blossom.
Swindells [author of Brother in the Land] might retort that there would be no birds or
apple blossom; but by the time Anne finally sets out westwards across the waste land,
fantasy has demonstrated--as realism has not--that humanity is worth saving.
Professional Reviews 1975
Publisher's Weekly, January 20th, 1975, p.77
The late author of this suspenseful novel won a Newbery Award for "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH." Told in diary form by a 16-year-old girl, O'Brien's posthumous story is set in the future, after a nuclear war. Ann Burden believes she is the last person on earth. Her family has left her to look after their farm in a deep valley as they drive off to look for other survivors. They never return. One day, Ann sees the smoke from a campfire and watches as it comes closer. The reader is at first relieved but gradually frightened, like the heroine, as she finds that the man who arrives at her home is no friend but a deadly enemy. The private war between the two is graphically described in a novel which is exciting and thought-provoking.
Publisher's Weekly, January 27th, 1975, p.278
This tale of humanity after atomic war brings to mind "Lord of the Flies" and
will have similar icy and compulsive effects on readers. Teenager Ann Burden loses her
family in "the war." That is, they left their familiar Pennsylvania valley and
never returned. Fearful that she is the only remaining survivor, the girl becomes
"both excited and afraid" when a man appears wearing a protective suit. His name
is Loomis and as a scientist he "won't just accept things." So he quickly makes
demands--subtle and otherwise--which force the 16-year-old to choose between flight and
servility. What ensues is a grim contest for survival with each, crazed by paranoia,
thinking the worst about the other. As in O'Brien's "A Report From Group 17,"
the suspense is bolstered by just enough scientific data for the layman to handle.
Library Journal, April 1, 1975, p. 694
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien verges on science fiction. A young girl,
apparently the last survivor of an atomic war, has been miraculously saved from radiation
sickness in a hidden valley in the U.S. Her peace is broken by the intrusion of a man, a
scientist who suffers from hallucinations or perhaps from memories of some wicked deed in
the past. Efforts of joint survival go sour; the man becomes very peculiar indeed and the
girl is forced to take direct action. The suspense is beautifully handles, frightening and
all too realistic; the ending is inconclusive and all the better for that.
Times Literary Supplement, April 4, 1975, p. 360
The setting of Z for Zachariah is a post-nuclear Eden. The holocaust has come and gone,
but in one American valley life survives, trees are green, and there is even one fresh
spring. The sixteen-year-old inhabitant of this maverick paradise leads a systematic and
hard-working life, cultivating the garden valley, tending the livestock and recording the
lonely routine in a journal. Loneliness and the frustration of not knowing whether other
pockets of life besides the valley esit, are the worst features of this life until a
second character arrives--a scientist who owes his survival to a protective suit. It is at
this point that the diarist-narrator is revealed to be a young woman.
The Good and bad by Peter Ackroyd The Spectator, April 12th, 1975, p. 444 [text regarding 'A Proper Place' omitted]
Z for Zachariah -- a novel which seems to have nothing whatever to do with its title,
by the way -- is in a different league [than 'A Proper Place']. It is an extremely good
and interesting novel, and if it is good enough for children then it must be good enough
for adults too. In fact, it is a great deal more adult than a lot of adult novels I have
been reading recently; it is well written, with none of the pandering to the
had a certain imaginative strength, without degenerating into crude fantasy or adventure,
and its theme is a resourceful one. Z for Zachariah is set in the aftermath of a nuclear
holocaust, somewhere in America. Ann Burden, sixteen years old, is living alone in a
sheltered valley, a cozy spot which has somehow been spared the devastation around it and
so becomes the perfect image of innocent childhood. Ann thinks that she is the only person
left in the world, but events prove her too optimistic. A stranger wearing a green
radiation- proof suit invades the more naturally green world of her hide- away. He is a
scientist, and science will turn paradise sour.
The Horn Book, June 1975, p. 276-277
A posthumous novel by a Newbery Medal winner, finished from his notes--according to the
dust jacket--by his wife and his daughter. Postulating an atomic war which devastates most
of the United States, if not the world, the author tells of the survival and conflict of
two human beings--a girl of sixteen and a mature young man. Ann Burden, left alone in a
green valley, a pocket untouched by fallout, keeps a diary telling how she continued to
live in her family home, cared for her cows and chickens, and tended her vegetable garden.
The sudden appearance of John Loomis, a chemist from Cornell, in a plastic
"safe-suit" which had enabled him to travel unscathed fro Ithaca, New York, to
Ann's uncontaminated enclave, arouses ambivalent feelings in the girl--suspicion of the
stranger and a desire for companionship. Despite her tender care for him during a
prolonged illness, once he is well, he shows himself to be insensitive and domineering,
and he actually tries to take advantage of her by brute force. Ingenious and resourceful,
Ann manages to avoid him and steals the safe-suit. She leaves the valley hoping to find
another place with life still in it, triumphant at having rejected and avoided the
domination of mere mechanical power. The combination of a survival story and science
fiction creates a significant background for a dramatic novel, in which two characters are
pitted against one another: Ann with her closeness to earth, her love of nature and of
books, her religious feelings; John Loomis with his rational engineering skills and his
ruthless will to exploit his surroundings. The title of the book is aptly allusive. Ann
tells how she had learned the alphabet in Sunday School "from a picture book called
The Bible Letter Book. The first page said 'A is for Adam...the last page of all was 'Z is
for Zachariah,' and...for a long time I assumed that Zachariah must be the last man."
The Junior Bookshelf, v. 39, June 1975, P. 201-202
It would have been so easy to give a traditional happy ending to this post-atomic-war
story of how the last surviving man and girl meet but sixteen-year-old Ann cannot bring
herself to accept the responsibility of being a new Eve to the Adam who invades her garden
America, December 6, 1975, p. 403-404
The death of this author was a sad day for children's literature, for his few books had given him a reputation for originality and sensitivity. (His Mr.s Frisby and the Rats of NIMH--also an Atheneum publication, reviewed in America [12/4/71]--won the prestigious Newbery Medal.) Had he lived, he would have ironed out the inconsistencies and discrepancies that may cause some critics to complain of this current novel. Fortunately, he left notes so that his family could complete the final chapters. Ann Burden tells of being left all alone when radiation from a nuclear blast has spread over the land. Her farm home has escaped because of its situation in a deep valley. She tries to ward off despair and overcome her loneliness, while watching warily for unwelcome strangers. And then a young man appears, whom she nurses back to health (he has drunk contaminated water flowing into her property). She is waiting for him to tell something about himself and all the time innocently yet practically planning for their marriage and future together. Then the horrifying secret of Mr. Loomis's sick mind comes to the fore, and Ann becomes a fugitive. How will she escape enslavement to this man, crazed as he has become through a fundamental decision he made months ago to save his life? A mature and through-provoking novel--with an ending that is really a beginning. Surely Mr. O'Brien will inspire someone in his family to write the sequel. Ages 11 and up.
© 1997 Boris Masis firstname.lastname@example.org
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