Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah (1975)

When my copy of Z for Zachariah came through on library loan, I was a bit disappointed: it was a relatively new paperback and the cover wasn’t anywhere near as disturbing as I remember the cover of the edition that I read as a girl being.

The cover stood out for me because I specifically remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, with a stack of books that I had scooped from the country library (which was, fortunately, located in the town she called home, affording an additional borrowing opportunity for the young-library-addict that I was) staring staring staring at that cover.

It was creepy: that cover was a big part of my finding the book so unsettling.

But a big part of that was also being a pre-teen/teen (I re-read this one for a few years anyway, from other libraries) and a part of the generation who watched “War Games”, “Red Dawn” and any other number of Made-for-TV movies about the ever-looming-fear of nuclear catastrophe.

I was prepared to be unsettled, I anticipated nuclear disaster as much as I anticipated my first kiss.

So perhaps, even if the library had co-operated and sent me an older edition, I might have been surprised to find it less disturbing than I remember it being.

Nonetheless, the book was just as disturbing. If you think that a book told in a diary format can’t be? Consider that the first words of this novel, after the date, are “I am afraid”.

Then take in the fact that the next sentence, in its own paragraph, to afford you a breath to increase the anxiety you started to feel after the first three words, is: “Someone is coming.”

And I don’t really want to say more than that because it’s enough to know that Ann Burden thought she was alone in the valley that housed her family’s farm — alone in the world, actually, following a nuclear war — and then realize, along with her, that she is not.

Imagine your favourite person in the world, and imagine how it would be to spend the rest of your days with only that person in Ann Burden’s valley; then imagine that situation with someone else (anyone else, a friend, a sibling, a neighbour, a stranger) and, wow, it’s suddenly complicated, isn’t it.

What I will say is that the cover of this edition of Z for Zachariah didn’t scare me before I re-read it. After I re-read it, I wasn’t quite so smug. And a short list of neuroses suddenly has roots!

Is there a book in your reading life that still creeps you out despite the number of years that have passed since you first read it?

Remember: Freedom to Read Week!

“Parents’ imaginations build frameworks out of their own hopes and regrets into which children seldom grow, but instead, contrary as trees, lean sideways out of the architecture, blown by a fatal wind their parents never envisaged.” (55)

Quote from Elizabeth Smart’s once-banned book, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945)