Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti

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Text, 2017. ISBN 9781925498561
(Age: Middle secondary +) Recommended. Science fiction. Dystopian fiction. A virus has killed the adult population of the world in this future dystopia. The only survivors are children who inevitably die when they reach puberty. All the expected conveniences of contemporary life have gone too, including electricity, transport, medicine, and systems of government. The children who have survived are aged between five and fifteen and increasingly have no knowledge or memory of life before the virus. Anna is a survivor but is approaching adulthood. She lives in Sicily with her young brother whom she hides from gangs of wild children. Her guide is a Book of Important Things written by her dying mother. The Book includes instructions about everyday matters, how to find food, how to store water and a command that Anna teach her brother how to read. They live in a remote farmhouse that is surrounded by corpses of people and their animals, but the children are so used to death that they treat it very matter-of-factly. Their first concern is to eat and they survive on cans of food and bottled soft drink supplemented by pills and alcohol. Looting is an essential skill, and Anna is a skilled and tough forager. On one of her excursions she fights a starving Maremma dog that consequently attaches itself to her. Forced from their home by a marauding gang the three of them, Anna, her brother Astor and the dog, walk to the coast to try to escape to the mainland where Anna hopes there may be adults who have survived the virus. They encounter children who have formed strange religious cults in the hope of being saved, and finally children who live with little knowledge of language or old customs. Anna is aware that time is running out for her as she reaches puberty on the journey. She, Astor and the dog desperately embark on the crossing between Messina in Sicily and Calabria. On arrival they don't at first find any adults but there are several small signs that offer hope for the future. The novel is dystopian; civilization is doomed, and humanity with it, as the children cannot reproduce. However it is not as shocking or bleak as other books in this genre are, for example Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The children are very matter-of-fact about death. Eating is more important than grieving, and the children are practised foragers as well as being innately hopeful. The deterioration of town and cityscapes is realistically described as are the attitudes of the children. Anna is strong and determined, and perhaps a little too resourceful but this is acceptable in a work for young adults. The novel is a thought-provoking addition to the genre of science fiction. It is recommended for middle level readers.
Jenny Hamilton