Friday, October 26, 2007

z for zounds, that was a nasty war

Finished another book yesterday! It was Z for Zachariah, which belongs to the fiction subgenre I think of as "post-apocalyptic young adult." In fact, yesterday I was reading it on the metro when I ran into E.Sto. He said, I loved that book! It was my post-apocalyptic phase!

A teenage girl is left behind in a valley that escapes nuclear destruction because of some inversion effect or something. Everything outside the valley is dead, including her family and the neighbors - they survived with her but went off to look for other people, and never came back. A guy appears with a radioactivity-proof safe suit, he gets sick, he recovers, things get ugly. It's not great. The story is told clunkily through her diary entries.

So what is it about post-apocalyptic young adult fiction? I loved this stuff. E.Sto remembered one where the adults had all been killed off in the nuclear war and there were good kids and a gang of bad kids who kept attacking them. An after-school special showed a future where the sun never comes out, then it comes out one day but this one girl misses it because her mean schoolmates locked her up, then they all feel bad. (Clearly, this stuck with me.) One of my favorite books circa 6th grade was The White Mountains, about the world after aliens descend and control our minds and, yknow, ruin everything.

It's pretty standard in children's literature to take away the parents. The kids in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe were sent to the countryside to escape the Blitz, and in Over Sea, Under Stone, someone sends the kids to their uncle in Cornwall for the summer. And all the really good books are about orphans (The Secret Garden, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Harry Potter). But none of these are post-apocalyptic; they're just parentless.

So is nuclear holocaust just another literary trick for wiping out the adults? Or was there something particular about our Cold War upbringings that made us want to read about what happens after the apocalypse? What was *your* favorite post-apocalyptic young adult book?

9 comments:

giddysinger said...

The after school special you mention is based on a Ray Bradbury short story called 'All Summer in a Day.' It's actually set on the planet Venus where it rains constantly and the sun never comes out -- never mind the earth-like temperature, atmosphere and vegetation. I read just about all of his short stories back in high school, and that one is pretty much the most horrifying of the bunch. It's not exactly post-apocalyptic, but it does capture a bit of that sense of children left to fend for themselves in a hostile environment.

towwas said...

Wow, cool, giddysinger! That show really did stick with me, and now I know what it was. Thanks! So perhaps it doesn't fit my post-apocalyptic thesis. Or non-thesis.

Sarah Moffett said...

What other books fall into the post-apocalypse kids rule the earth genre? And here I thought vampire books were the rage…

David J said...

It's not really post-apocalyptic, but Mrs. David J. hooked me on the "Uglies/Pretties/Specials" trilogy of young adult books, and they're pretty fascinating. If you had to categorize it, I'd say it's "post-post-apocalyptic." Here's
the Amazon link w/ description.

towwas said...

Dahvay, those books sound excellent! I'm too cheap to buy them, but perhaps I will find my way to a library someday. S.Moff, of course, now that I've blogged about it, I can't think of a single other post-apocalyptic piece of fiction. Maybe I dreamed the whole thing. But I feel that this was a major genre of my childhood.

J.Bro said...

I don't know whether they're children's books or not, but I wore out two copies of The Stand by Stephen King in high school, and also loved Swan Song by Robert McCammon (which I made my students read a half-chapter of for a class on nuclear war). As an adult, I've also really enjoyed Alas Babylon, Lucifer's Hammer, and Earth Abides.

J-Vo said...

There was a series of short paperbacks published when were in middle school about a bunch of teenagers and their hijinks after a nuclear war. The series had a title, but I can't remember it. It was something like "the ramblers," but that wasn't it.

J-Vo said...

Oh, and don't forget the post-Rapture genre of fiction! Tim LaHaye's Left Behind spurned a whole series and movie phenomenon.

I watched a post-Rapture movie from the 1970's in high school, and it scared the holy living crap out of me.

giddysinger said...

j-vo, I think you meant 'spawned,' not 'spurned.'

Actually, it's pretty damn funny just the way you have it, so never mind. ;-)