Any books with zombies immediately fall under the category of books I choose to ignore, but when a book has a book jacket synopsis as short but still as powerful as M.R. Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts, I find myself wanting to know more, while also being incredibly apprehensive as to what I will find. It helps that while zombie stories follow the same general idea, each one executes it in a different way. And if the synopsis was any clue, this story would not disappoint in originality and execution.
The Situation: Melanie spends the majority of her time in her cell, away from the other children, and away from the adults that supervise and teach her. Monday through Friday, she is strapped down into her wheelchair and taken to the classroom where one of several teachers leads the class. On the weekends she takes a bath and gets to eat, and then the cycle starts all over again. She does not know much about who or what she is, but does know that Sergeant Parks does not like her or any of the other children very much, and that Dr. Caldwell is not someone to trust. The only adult she does like is Ms. Justineau, and the days that she teaches are always Melanie's favorite. Having no memory of what it is like beyond the other end of the hallway, the end opposite the classroom, Melanie does not know enough to miss the outside world. As far as she knows, her life as it is at the base will be her life forever. Until one day, when it isn't.
The Problem: Things are continuing as normal at the base where the children, who are anomalies that were captured and brought there so Dr. Caldwell could study them, are taught and kept in cells, when the once secure fence surrounding the property is suddenly under attack by hungries. The hungries are being forced forward by junkers - people living off the land who refused to evacuate to safety when the infection took over the planet - determined to break through the fence and into the base. Within minutes, Melanie is no longer secured down by straps to make sure she doesn't bite anyone, and everyone inside the base, including her favorite Ms. Justineau, is in serious danger. But even when they manage to make it out together, Ms. Justineau is now stuck in close company with the cold and unpleasant Sergeant Parks, and the condescending and single-minded Dr. Caldwell. Survival within their small group would be hard enough even without the Melanie, the small genius-level zombie, tagging along.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel that I at first had placed under the heading of horror. It is normally my natural inclination to put any book dealing with zombies under a horror heading, but I relented as I got further into the story. Don't get me wrong; there is plenty of blood and death and severed limbs and attacks by zombie hordes, but there is also a lot of science behind the entire story, mostly coming from Dr. Caldwell's clinical approach to the children she had captured for the purpose of studying them. The first part of the novel gives most of the scientific background to the story, over an underlying tension that comes from fear of the unknown. But once the characters are on the run, the science may still there, but these people also have to figure out how to survive and keep from being eaten. Oh yeah, and one of the hungries they are trying to avoid happens to be right there with them. Imagine running for your life with an overbearing sergeant, a woman who sees no issue with cutting up children, another woman who can barely keep herself from hugging something that often wants to eat her, and a zombie child. Carey paints a pretty good picture of the type of circumstances that cause many people to go it alone. But as much as the small group may despise each other, their chances are better together than alone. And strangely, their chances are best when Melanie is with them.
My Verdict: For someone like me who is more inclined to avoid stories with zombies, there were definitely some tough moments, and not necessarily because of all of the blood and the eating. Sure, that was awful, but what was downright creepy was Carey's descriptions of the ways the zombies operate. Melanie was different: she may have been a zombie who at the end of the day desired to feed on living beings, but she was at least aware of herself. It was the ones that chased after you if the saw or heard you, and then stopped and stayed where they were, for years if they had to, until something else came along that was worth chasing. Even Dr. Caldwell's clinical descriptions of what was happening didn't help. As a zombie book, this was done well. My only real bone to pick with the novel was some of the plot gaps that come with attempting to use science to explain exactly what is happening in a zombie apocalypse, and why children like Melanie are even possible. It is an ambitious idea, and one that may have been too big to explain in a believable way.
Favorite Moment: When Ms. Justineau walks over to Dr. Caldwell and punches her in the face. They both got on my nerves, but this scene felt right to me.
Favorite Character: I never would have thought so at first, but Sergeant Parks ended up being my favorite. He is the only one with any real skill to survive. And while he was a complete jerk, he didn't have any delusions about the situation and planned accordingly.
Recommended Reading: I am limited in my knowledge of zombie books, but I can recommend This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers. It is a young adult novel that follows a group of high school students as they attempt to live together in their school while zombies wander around on the outside.