The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R. Carey
"As fresh as it is terrifying . . . It left me sighing with envious joy . . . A jewel." -Joss Whedon
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.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end. (Inside Jacket Flap)
Melanie and her fellow students on the army base are kept in locked cells. When they go to class, they are strapped into wheelchairs, held fast with wrist, foot, and neck restraints. The teachers are all a bit odd, but the reader is kept just enough out of the loop to want to know WHAT THE HELL is going on! One teacher has a drinking problem, one is just boring, and another's (Miss Justineau) conscience is unravelling. When students keep getting taken away to Dr. Caldwell, though, and never return, one student begins to wonder what exactly is going on.
Caroline Caldwell is very skilled at separating brains from skulls. She does it quickly and methodically, and she gets the brains out in one piece, with minimal tissue damage. She's reached the point now where she could almost do it in her sleep.
Miss Justineau, meanwhile, spends her time attempting to go over Dr. Caldwell's head to stop the experiments being performed on the children. Sergeant Parks and his men are getting worried as they see more and more movement from the hungries and junkers outside the compound fences. When the compound is breached, an unlikely group of individuals forms an uneasy alliance to survive.
When I picked up this book, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My friend Dylan told me I just HAD to read it. I can definitely say that when I first started it, I had no idea I was going to be reading a book about a post-apocalyptic world overrun by the shells of people whose brains and bodies have been taken over by a seriously crazy infection. The children that Miss Justineau has been looking after (and who Dr. Caldwell has been dissecting!) are incredibly intelligent, even as their desire to eat people lies in wait for the right opportunity to strike.
Carey's writing is sharp and engrossing. I couldn't help but get drawn into the story from the start. I love the interpersonal relationship dynamics at the centre of the novel. Melanie and Miss Justineau have a very complex relationship, and I love the hope that their connection evokes, even as they struggle to make things work, since Melanie is still a hungry deep inside. Character building is strong, and never does Carey rely on static characters. Even the rather terrible and morally corrupt Dr. Caldwell has some depth to her. The bad guys are always that little bit worse when there's a possibility that they could have turned out better.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a fantastically wrought tale that will disturb as well as delight. Moments of humour pepper the darkness that threatens to overwhelm the story from time to time: "The weapon's just dead weight until [Parks] can clear whatever's jamming it - the first round, most likely, elbowed in the chamber. And two hungries are on top of him now, triangulating from left and right. One of them used to be a man, the other a woman. They're about a second away from the world's nastiest three-way."
Carey's novel, though similar in some ways to other zombie tales, is also very unique. Carey's hungries are creepy, but they are also fascinating, with a fully constructed origin story that actually explains their existence (as opposed to many zombie stories that just start with a "plague," vaguely referenced at some point in the story.)
If you like zombie novels with substance and a strangely heartwarming story at the centre, you need to read The Girl with All the Gifts.
NB: I normally review YA and Children's books, but I feel that this particular book (though not marketed for a YA audience) acts as a great cross-over novel, with a lot of teen reading appeal.