Nicholas's Reviews > Below the Root

Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
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Feb 01, 11

bookshelves: reviewed
Read in June, 1982

This was the first book I ever checked out of the Library. I picked it up purely for the cover, and fell deeply in love with it. A couple of years later I got the Windham Classics video game as a birthday gift, and fell in love with the world all over again, but I came to it already loving the world of Green-Sky.


[Review contains minor to significant spoilers!]


Some people reviewing this book and its sequels recently have criticized their originality and called out their trope of human colonists living a low tech and agrarian lifestyle built on social views popular in the sixties and seventies, who discover the same cultural issues led them to leave earth in the first place and must confront the true origins and technology of their historical founders. Ground that has been covered by Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, and others from books to cartoons to Star Trek episodes over the last few decades. Let's be clear here, these books were written in the early 70s and were trope-building. This is where some of those ideas came from.

Children's Literature is often earnest and slightly obvious in it's themes, and that is appropriate for books aimed at developing intellects. It seems odd to criticize a book for not having a level of character or thematic complexity that would be discouraging to its target audience.

The world-building here is first rate. The characters are well drawn within the confines of the world they inhabit, and the storytelling mechanism was original (or at least unusual) for its time.

This is a book (and a series) about social themes, personal responsibility, and taking on the mantle of responsibility for ourselves and the society we are a part of as we grow up. The characters begin with simplistic views about good and bad, right and wrong, and what it means to obey they rules.

Watching the characters discover the realities of oppression, deception by government for the perpetuation of government, and the complicity of those who are ruled accepting negative things happening to others for the sake of the status quo was astounding as an eight-year-old. These are heady concepts, and they were handled deftly at the intellect level of children.

The issues faced by the characters defy simple fixes, and have lasting consequences for themselves and the people that they care about. Lessons about moral and ethical choices, loyalty to friends and societies (and the conflicts between those things), and what happens AFTER we do the "right" thing and who it affects are all lasting lessons that I'm very glad to have discovered in these books.

I can't really recommend Below the Root and its sequels highly enough, and I hope that these classics of children's literature return to print and library shelves. They are timeless, and as a parent of children in the target age group, I haven't found anything better to introduce to my kids.
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