The Girl With All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey.
“Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl.”
That’s the blurb for the book, both on the inside cover flap and on Goodreads. That was the extent of what I knew about the novel when I began reading. Can you see how I might have thought it was about a girl with some kind of paranormal special powers? Especially given the cover image? So I was a bit surprised when it turned out not to be that at all. This is, in fact, a book about zombies.
It’s some time in the future when a type of parasitic fungus has spread over the planet, turning most of the population into brain-thirsty zombies. The ‘hungries,’ as they’re called, are everywhere, and behave like typical zombies – mindless, reacting to sounds and movement, vicious. Except for a small group of children who, while still susceptible to their zombie urges, have managed to retain their human intelligence and emotions. Naturally, the remaining human government (in England, in this case) has rounded them up for study to figure out why they are different and what that might mean for a cure. Melanie, the prominent character of the book, is one of these children and an intellectual genius in her own right. She is (as you might have guessed from the blurb above) an inmate at a military facility dedicated to studying these children. The book as a whole is her story, as she starts to realize what she is and what that means, in the midst of sudden chaos and fighting her own violent urges.
This was an interesting read. I’m not sure I’d call it a thriller, as it didn’t ever give me that kind of oh-crap urgency that thrillers are supposed to. And zombie books aren’t generally my cup of tea, so that may be influencing my reaction, too. But it is an intriguing premise and worth a read. Melanie’s character and situation were unique and kept my attention in the parts of the book that followed her viewpoint. The cast of supporting characters (a teacher, a doctor, a sergeant, all with their own opinions on how Melanie should be handled) were necessary to give a broader scope, but I didn’t find them as compelling. They were a bit too one-note. I did like the arc of the story, and the ending in particular was unexpected but fitting. And sometimes books with zombies as the main storyline can get a bit bogged down in gore – that happily wasn’t the case with this book. It does come up, of course, but it’s not an every-chapter focus.
Overall, if apocalyptic zombie stories are your thing, you’ll definitely want to pick this up.