Anna, by Niccolò Ammaniti (author), Jonathan Hunt (translator)

Italian author Niccolò Ammaniti has been publishing in Italy since 1999 and several of his book have been translated into English. They have also been the basis of a few Italian films. Like most of his books, Anna revolves around children though because it’s in the post-apocalyptic category it’s the only one to fall into the science fiction genre.

Set in Sicily, in what are now the ruins of Palermo, a new epidemic has spread through the island and, presumably, the rest of the world. The epidemic only strikes people following puberty. This makes it a world of children … and dogs … and perhaps a few immune adults though that’s also something not entirely certain.

Anna is on the verge of puberty, living with and protecting a little brother. She has centered her life around the written instructions left by her mother before she died. Her mother explained the situation, wrote instructions for finding things like antibiotics, gave suggestions for caring for her brother, and even left instructions about how to deal with her remains. Anna has nearly followed those instructions. She was to bury her mother after locking the bedroom where she died for six months until the body would be light enough to move. Anna is creative enough that she moves the body but then puts a bit of jelly on the corpse to encourage ants and other insects to devour the flesh. She then reassembles her mother back in the bed where she died.

Supplies have run out and Anna must leave on foraging trips to find canned goods in a city that has been greatly damaged by fire. She will run into other children once in awhile, never knowing if they’ll be trustworthy or dangerous. During one of her foraging trips she finds that her house has been raided. Her mother’s bones have been scattered and her brother is missing. This sets her on an odyssey to find her brother and return him. Along the way a former guard dog makes friends with her, as does a boy just a bit older than she is.

It’s a very touching book about an insane world seen through a child’s eyes. She faces dangers, such as theft and sexual assaults from groups of people her age. But she moves forward with courage and a dream of finding her brother and somehow getting him off the island to the mainland to learn if there is a safer world outside of Sicily.

Because of some of the violence and sexual situations it’s a book that is probably more appropriate for young adults starting in their mid- to late-teens, but it doesn’t have the feel of a YA book. It’s a fully-formed adult book with an unusual setting and theme, and well worth your time.