This book was not what I was expecting. The premise is that the United States has gone crazy after an extremist party has come to power and the president has been assassinated, leaving one girl to set out on her own in a search for her parents and safety. This led me to expect more action and more politics, explaining how we got from our current world to the broken world of the future. Neither of those things was really present, though. Radley doesn't have a lot of encounters with the looters and vigilantes who are roaming the country, and the course of events leading up to the current state of affairs is never fully explained. We don't learn any details about how the American People's Party gained power in a political system that doesn't exactly favour third parties, for example.
None of that turned out to matter, though. What this book mainly is, is a quietly introspective look at the things that we value. And it works very well. Radley reflects on how her parents gave her everything she needed, and wishes deeply that she had shown more appreciation. She wonders how she can make a contribution to society. And she cautiously develops new relationships in a dangerous and unfamiliar world. Looking at the themes that are developed, and how Hesse manages to do it in a way that doesn't feel heavy-handed, I can understand why she's won a Newbery medal for her previous work.
This book also includes an element that I personally always love: setting up a home in an isolated place with minimal supplies, and developing it from a basic shelter where one struggles to survive to a comfortable place that really is a home. It reminds me of stories about homesteading, and the Boxcar Children, and people shipwrecked on desert islands. Again, the survival element is done quietly, without a lot of intense struggle, but I found it very satisfying all the same. This is a powerful book in its understated way.