Chapter Eight – Doctor! Doctor!
So the kid Bumper is crying because his lovebirds, named Mick and May (are you getting sick of the alliteration? Because I am) flew away. I am not filled with sympathy. Birds are prone to do that, which is why pets are generally kept in cages or have their wings clipped.
Rah says that he’ll find the birds for him. So off he goes, with Zyn staying behind to calm Bumper down. He walks along until he sees the birds sitting in a tree. He tells them to come down and they fly down and land on his shoulders and he takes them back to Bumper. Well. That was anti-climactic. Stouffer continues to demonstrate her mastery of the English language:
Bumper’s big brown eyes gleamed, and a wide grin spread across his small, innocent, blushing face (page 145).
Why would a kid who just got his beloved pets back be blushing? I don’t think that words means what you think it means.
The scene now switches back to the Muggle village where there’s a game of croquet going on. It’s not really that interesting, except for a few references to golf and volleyball. I wonder how these concepts have survived and been passed on for generations after the nuclear holocaust, but other concepts haven’t. It’s almost like the author didn’t really think any of this through.
There is actually a point to the game though, surprisingly. Rah hits an incredible croquet shot that only Yur has ever hit and everyone congratulations him and Yur gives him a gold medallion. However, Zyn is very disappointed and jealous and walks away. Yur notices and reads him a story about pirates and how some of their treasure may be left along the coastline. Zyn is excited so the next day he and Rah go out looking for treasure. They find a cave and head inside. Rah gets nervous and wants to leave but Zyn insists on continuing. Eventually they find a room with a wooden chest and Zyn claims it as his own. There’s an emblem in the chest that exactly matches the emblem on the medallion that Rah is wearing.
So they argue a little and Rah feels bad and walks off and then Zyn goes after him and finds Rah lying on the ground. So he tries to wake him up but Rah is unresponsive. Zyn tears back to the Muggle villages, fetches the doctor, and they go tearing back. It turns out that Rah was lying on some Bordonian moss and the doctor thinks he’s allergic to it. Sure enough, after they get Rah away from it he wakes back up and is fine. And…that’s that.
Chapter Nine – An Attitude
Apparently Rah and Zyn are rather sharp. Rah especially. Stouffer spends several pages talking about how Rah improves things…he designs an irrigation system, a mill, and Stouffer randomly switches tenses again. Seriously. It’s really not that hard to avoid.
Stouffer mentions that the waterwheel for the mill looks like a Ferris wheel, which is an odd comparison to make in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, where Ferris wheels have not existed in over five hundred years. Anyway, once they finish building the mill Rah asks them to build a dam, and a bunch of beavers do so. I guess they’re radioactive beavers that understand English, like the sea cows and barracudas and porpoises.
Stouffer spends two entire pages describing the process for how a waterwheel works. Not only is it poorly written, there is absolutely no reason for it. What the hell is wrong with this woman? She’s writing a children’s book, not only do children not care about mills, they really don’t care with how mills work! How could she possibly think there was a good reason to include a scene like this? It doesn’t advance the plot or provide characterization and it isn’t interesting. There is absolutely no reason for it. (In Stouffer’s defense, most of the scenes in this book are like this).
Fortunately, Stouffer moves on and provides characterization. Unfortunately, she has never heard of showing rather than telling:
Zyn was becoming increasingly more jealous of Rah. Rah was successful and visibly admired by nearly everyone. He resented Rah’s accomplishments and the attention the Muggles gave him. Zyn’s jealousy eventually consumed his spirit (page 180).
Also, she doesn’t realize that ‘increasingly’ and ‘more’ mean the same thing.
Anyway, we’re told that Zyn becomes antisocial, sarcastic, and a jerk. Rah is worried about this and seeks Golda’s advice. She tells him that he can’t solve Zyn’s problems for him. Which may or may not be true, but it kinda comes across like she’s telling him not to try helping him which isn’t great advice. At all.
While Rah anguished over his brother, Zyn was making plans to destroy him. “There just isn’t enough room here for both of us, and I can take care of that,” Zyn mumbled angrily to himself (page 183).
Weird. Is that a hint of a plot I see?
Chapter Ten – The Manchineet Tree
Zyn is a loud and nasty young man. Seriously:
Zyn was a loud and nasty young man (page 185).
Zyn’s a troublemaker, and everyone is worried about him. However, Zyn eventually gets a group of followers that he bullies into complete and total submission to him, a group he calls the ‘Nevils’. Is it a coincidence that the name has the word EVIL in it? Who knows???
Zyn bullies a kid named Teeter into complete submission, which leads to this hilarious quote:
“Yeah, I got him right where I want him, oh, yes I do, diddy do – do!” Zyn smirked (page 190).
Yes. He actually said diddy-do. Randomly in the middle of a sentence. For no reason.
Our narrator switches tenses again and begins telling us about Zyn’s gang:
Jiitters is a sixteen-year-old boy who has a problem with his nerves. His hands shake out of control when his conscience bothered him, and lately they shook all the time (page 191).
Yes, she misspelled Jitters’ name. Also, if his conscience bothers him that much, why is he involved in a gang?
Chops, fifteen years old, is a muscular boy who chews gum, blows bubbles and pops them with his fingertips. He wears an old black leather jacket he found (page 191).
First – all of the Muggles are pictured as being absolutely stick-thin with no apparent muscular development. Second, where the hell is he getting bubble-gum from? Third, why the hell would he pop them with his fingertips? Finally, how the hell would a black leather jacket survive a nuclear holocaust and then last perfectly for FIVE HUNDRED YEARS???
Stubby is fifteen (page 192).
Remember Stubby, the five-year-old who can talk? Yeah, he’s ten years older now. Which is odd, because twenty-two years have passed. How Stubby has only aged ten years over the past twenty-two? Not really certain. And yes, this is the same Stubby – Stouffer specifically references the fact that he asks questions about everything.
Stouffer spends two more pages describing the gang but it’s not interesting or important. Eventually she gets to the more important part, which is explaining in so many words that the Nevils are terrorists. You know what might be good? Showing us their acts of terrorism instead of just stating that they are.
The Nevils build themselves a house on top of the Manchineet Tree. And this next part is literally too stupid for words:
The Manchineet Tree sheds radioactive pollen that has caused Zyn and the Nevils’ skin to blister and discolor. It made their nails thick and crusty, and the whites of their eyes yellow and bloodshot (page 194).
Uh…why don’t they move?
Zyn’s naturally curly, strawberry-blond hair that once hung just below his shoulders was falling out in clumps. His very long eyelashes no longer outline his emerald green eyes. He was ill, very ill, but he would have never swallowed his pride to ask anyone for help (page 195).
Seriously. Why don’t they move?
Stouffer is trying to set this up as Zyn being too stubborn to ask for help, but she’s ignoring the rather important point that they don’t have to ask for help. Nothing is keeping them there. They are sitting in a radioactive deathtrap as their bodies slowly disintegrate for no fucking reason. Also, remember the part where they are terrorists? Why don’t they drive the Muggles out of their village and take it over or something?
The really sad part is there is a far better reason if Stouffer wanted, for whatever reason, to have the Nevils living there: a couple lines about how Zyn was too stubborn and prideful to admit that he made a mistake in choosing a radioactive tree in the first place, and that’s why he forces everyone to stay there. It’s a little contrived, sure, but Zyn doesn’t seem too mentally stable, so there you go. Instead he just comes across as a blithering idiot.
I would complain about the fact that there is one radioactive tree sitting there and none of the other trees anywhere else are radioactive, but I’ve complained about Stouffer’s intolerance for science and logic enough, I think. So, my bad.
We skip over to Rah who feels bad for his brother and tries to think of something to do for him. He can’t think of anything, so he reads a story from the Ancient Book of Tales about greedy rabbits. Now, considering that this book is supposed to contain wisdom, you might think this story would be some kind of allegory or allusion to their current situation, or that it might inspire Rah to come up with a brilliant solution. It isn’t and it doesn’t. So there’s really no reason for it to be in here.
Chapter Eleven – The Big Plan
Zyn sits in his watchtower – yeah he has a watchtower apparently – and looks over the coastline at an island. He decides the Nevils should go out to the island to live. So he talks up the island to the gang and Stubby asks what they’re going to do:
“That’s why I’m the leader of this pathetic group. The only thing you little buggers do is ask questions,” Zyn answered (page 203).
Actually, I think the reason you’re the leader is because you’re three feet taller than everyone else. Also, I’m not really sure why Stouffer keeps using ‘bugger’. Because, to be perfectly honest, it means ‘fuck’. To be even more honest, it means ‘to sodomize’. Neither is appropriate for a children’s novel. And yes, I’m sure Stouffer doesn’t mean it that way, and yes, I know it has another meanings, but it still shouldn’t be present in a children’s novel. Or novella. Or short story. Whatever this is.
Zyn sends the Nevils off to fetch supplies while he sits in sand and lets the sun warm his radioactive skin. After they get supplies, they build a boat. Then they melt tree pitch into a tar-like consistency and spread it all over the hull to make it waterproof. Sounds like it wouldn’t work, but whatever. Then we get this:
By the time the Nevils were finished, their tiny hands were blistered and burned. Their bodies were singed black from the heat of the rubbery tar. When nightfall arrived, their skin felt as though it was on fire – they leapt into the ocean waves where the soothing salt water cooled the heat of their second- and third-degree burns (page 208).
I guess it’s pretty lucky that the radiation changed the Muggles’ genetic makeup so much so they find salt water soothing on second-degree burns.
Zyn screams and bullies at everyone for doing such a terrible job, which sounds to me like a pretty sure way to find yourself with a mutiny on your hands. Or maybe some arsenic in your Cheerios.
The next day Rah comes to try and convince them that it’s a bad idea to leave. Zyn tells him off and the Nevils set sail. They get well out into the ocean and their boat is promptly crushed by a tidal wave.