I read this book back in junior high in the early 1980s during the Regan years when it seemed the Cold War had returned in full force. This book terrified me and I still remember how chillled I felt when I finished reading it. Very thought provoking for young adults and grown adults alike.
Reviewed by Lynn Crow for TeensReadToo.com
Sixteen-year-old Ann Burden has been living on her own for a year, since the nuclear bombs turned everything surrounding her little valley into a wasteland, and her parents drove out to find other survivors... and never came back. Knowing she may be the only person left, Ann struggles with her loneliness and tends to the farm as best she can. But then a man comes over the hills in a protective suit and arrives in the valley. At first he provides Ann with welcome companionship, but as he recovers from a bout of radiation sickness, his actions become more sinister.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH is an intense, heart-pounding read. From the moment Ann first sees smoke rising from beyond the valley, each development wrenches her further and further from the life she's adjusted to--seemingly for good, and then with terrible consequences. The pacing is perfect, and with the story being told through Ann's journal entries, every event feels immediate. The personal details and unflinching descriptions of life after a nuclear war make the story even more gripping. As the tension escalates, readers will find it incredibly hard to put the book down before they discover Ann's ultimate fate. While the story leaves this somewhat open-ended, Ann's ultimate victory will make them cheer.
Ann is a likable narrator, with a natural voice and a well-developed personality. It's easy to sympathize with her based on her situation alone, but she is all the more admirable for refusing to give up even in the most desperate circumstances. She deals with her problems with intelligence and courage, but still has those moments of carelessness and fear that make her human. Readers will be on her side from the beginning, even as they struggle to imagine how they would feel in her place. Though her final triumph involves some loss, it's clear Ann will persevere and find a way to survive and be happy, which makes the ending satisfying.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH is a story that will haunt readers long after they've put down the book. It shows both the good and the bad that can emerge from human nature in the face of catastrophe, and gives hope that even in the worst situations, there are those who will remain strong.