“Beyond Claypole Ridge there is Ogdentown, about ten miles farther. But there is no one left alive in Ogdentown.
I know this because after the war ended, and all the telephones went dead, my father, my brother Joseph and Cousin David went in the truck to find out what was happening, and the first place they went was Ogdentown. They went early in the morning: Joseph and David were really excited, but Father looked serious.
When they came back, it was dark. Mother had been worrying – they took so long – so we were glad to see the truck lights finally coming over Burden Hill, two miles away. They looked like beacons. […] It came up to the house, and they got out; the boys weren’t excited anymore. They looked scared, and my father looked sick. My mother looked up at him as he climbed down.
“What did you find?”
He said: “Bodies. Just dead bodies. They’re all dead.”
We went inside the house where the lamps were lit, the two boys following not saying anything. My father sat down. “Terrible,” he said, and again, “terrible, terrible. We drove around looking. We blew the horn. Then we went to the church and rang the bell. You can hear it five miles away. We waited two hours, but nobody came. I went in a couple of houses – the Johnsons’, the Peters’- they were all in there, all dead. There were dead birds all over the streets.”
My brother Joseph began to cry. He was fourteen. I think I had not heard him cry for six years.”
Sixteen-year-old Ann Burden believes that she is the last human left on Earth, living a somewhat idyllic life of solitude after an ill-explained war has left everyone dead from radiation poisoning, at least everyone in the United States. For some reason, the valley that Ann lives in is mysteriously protected from the nuclear fall-out. She lives day to day with her dog and keeps a diary of the events, Z for Zacharia is that diary.
Her quiet life is completely rattled, however, when, you guessed it, someone else shows up on the block. John Loomis, a scientist, survived thanks to his invention – a radiation proff suit – of which there is only one in existence.
Overall, this is a moderately successful YA book. I would say that I enjoyed reading it, but I would also say that there are some pretty important faults that I couldn’t look over.
First, we are never given much decent explanation as to why Ann’s parents decide to leave her. Her whole family goes into town, thus succumbing to radiation poisoning. No mother or father, at least I don’t think, would leave their daughter to “man the fort” so to speak, after a nuclear war. I just didn’t buy it.
Second, it seems implausible and unbelievable that Ann’s valley is so situated geographically that it is immune to nuclear fall-out. One river in the valley is contaminated, and maybe I don’t know enough about the effects of nuclear war, but I just don’t think there is line that can separate one part of land from the other, like a line that keeps out nuclear fall-out. If you know more about this, please, explain to me how this is possible.
Third, it does not think its readers are as smart as they are. I really felt like Ann’s voice was not wholly realized. She is not exactly like a sixteen year old girl. I realize that she has matured, that she is forced to grow up because of her situation, but other than a few musings, there is no loss of her innocence. The reader does not get to witness this transition, and it’s a shame, because I feel that is really where our story is.
I think it is entirely possible that I was looking for a different novel. Perhaps the problem is not in the structure of the story, but rather the structure of the narrative. For the story told, very much an action story that relied more on events than on emotions, a diary was not the best choice. As readers, we never develop the intimite relationship with Ann that a diary should afford, instead it seems that the story is told as a diary simply because writing a diary is something that a lonely 16-year-old girl would do. Had the narrative been structured differently, perhaps a regular first-person narrative, I would have found the story more believable and more relatable.
All that being said, like I mentioned, I enjoyed reading this story. It has some faults, but it is an entertaining “apocalyptic” novel meant for the younger crowd.