Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Bibliographic Citation:
O’Brien, Robert C. (1987). Z for Zachariah. New York, NY: Simon Pulse. ISBN 9780020446507, 249p.

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Plot Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Ann Burden is living in the aftermath of a nuclear war and as far as she knows, she’s alone. One day she sees someone approaching in the distance and begins fantasizing about who it could be and what it could mean for the future. She meets Mr. Loomis, a scientist, who has survived the fallout. He arrives in special suit that protects the wearer from radiation exposure. Her fantasies quickly fade when Mr. Loomis’s true personality and will become more apparent and she is faced with a new, harsh reality.

Critical Analysis:
Typical of YA novels, Z for Zachariah is both fast-paced and written as a first person narrative. While the pace at which the novel progresses is undoubtedly a strength, the narrator’s point of view  is both a strength and a weakness in this novel. By having Ann tell the story from the point of view of her journal entries, the reader really gets to know her, can feel a connection with her, and can identify with her as a strong, dynamic female character with an unusual coming of age story. Since Ann is not an all knowing narrator the reader misses out on the thoughts and viewpoints of Mr. Loomis. However, it can be argued that the omniscient narration is ideal because the point of view of Mr. Loomis may not have enhanced the story. While this type of extreme isolation is something that the reader has most likely not experienced, Ann is a character that reader can empathize with as she tries to imagine what she would do if this happened in her life.

Another part of the story that can be seen both as a strength and a weakness is the open ending. When describing this book to someone else, I said that it ended in a way that the author could’ve followed up with a sequel but didn’t really need to do so. In the end Ann is going a new direction; she formulated a plan and is now executing it, but her journey could take her anywhere. Some readers enjoy a sense of finality to a story, while others like to fill in the blanks themselves. Will Ann find life outside of the valley? Will Ann happen upon the deadness and like too many others before her, perish?

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