I have just finished re-reading “Z for Zachariah” by Robert C. O’Brien. I read this book back in school when i was about 14 and was fascinated by it! I recently found a copy in Waterstones quite by accident, so i thought i would re-read it, to see how differently i read it compared to the first time.
The blurb reads:
“Ann Burden, the lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust, is threatened by the arrival in her valley of an unknown intruder. She hides, he watches and they both wait. Might he be a friend and ally, this scientist in a radiation-proof suit, or have the horrors he has witnessed turned him into something more sinister? The answer unfolds in a battle of wills which ends in a chilling struggle for survival, between a girl and the last man on earth.”
The book opens with Ann explaining how she was left alone in her valley after her family went to look for survivors outside and never came back. She writes in her journal each day about what she does to keep herself alive, as she plans for the future alone. That is until Mr Loomis arrives. She looks after him when he gets radiation sickness, and for a while it looks like they might be able to coexist in the valley, and Ann imagines a future where they manage to survive in the valley and maybe even have a family one day.
However, once Mr Loomis starts getting better, he starts playing mind games with her, and she grows increasingly uneasy, especially as he doesn’t talk about himself or his life before he entered the valley. This only proves that he has something to hide, and Ann gets an idea of what has happened through his delirious mutterings when he is ill. He grows increasingly threatening towards her and she starts to avoid him as much as possible but he cuts off her supplies, causing her to take action.
Ann is maybe a little bit naïve as she is only 15 (16 when the book ends), but she is also fairly self-sufficient and sensible with good instincts. She has had to deal with the loss of her family and everyone she knew all by herself in the valley where she lived with them, which can’t have been easy surrounded by memories. She knows how she can survive in her valley by planning out how to grow and harvest food and so on, but she seems to have become a little bit complacent in believing that no-one would come and has let her guard down a bit. But at least she knows how to use a gun!
Mr Loomis is a mysterious stranger who is ill for the first part of the book, so we don’t really get to know much about him until he gets better. The name should be enough to suggest that he is clearly more of an older and more superior character: we don’t know his first name, which makes him seem distant and less friendly. The stronger he gets after the illness, the more disturbing his behaviour is towards Ann. It is only in this re-reading of the book that i realise how much of a sexual predator he could be. He is clearly aware that she may be the only female left on earth, and that she is completely at his mercy. This turns the story into a more chilling plot. Ann becomes gradually aware of his attentions and is disgusted. She leaves him stranded in the valley when she steals his suit, because she would rather face the unknown than stay in the valley with a creep like him. Good on her!
I give this book 8/10 because it is a fascinating but chilling post-apocalyptic and dystopian story, and the characters are really interesting, with their relationship changing throughout the book. There is a lot of tension throughout the book, and it explores human emotion and the vulnerability of both characters really well. I highly recommend this book to everyone, even though it is teenage fiction!