I didn’t know about this book (even with my all-things-zombie obsession) until I saw the movie trailer. Only published in 2014, The Girl with All the Gifts is already a major motion picture set to debut in the UK at the end of this month. I have to admit, when I saw the trailer, I was hooked. And when I found out it was based on this bestselling novel, I had to grab this one off the shelves before seeing the movie. Let’s see what you think. Orbit | June, 2014 | Paperback | 460 pp
Putting aside the race reversal, the small clips shown in the trailer appear to be spot on with the book. Race is noted because the main character compares the whiteness of her skin and the darkness of her teacher’s skin at the very beginning.
The Girl with All the Gifts begins with little Melanie who is locked in a cell by herself. Each day, she is strapped into a wheelchair at gunpoint, and rolled to a classroom with a number of other children who are also strapped into their chairs. She loves her class time but most of all, she loves Miss Justineau, one of her teachers. Melanie is classified as a genius-level girl and a lot of questions run through her head. She’s always watching, always observing. The head scientist, Dr. Caldwell, is working on a cure or vaccine for a zombie outbreak and she’s interested in the brain functions of these children who have the disease but still possess mental clarity. When two of the children who were taken to Dr. Caldwell’s lab never return, she’s terrified when she’s chosen next.
The nature of zombies (called ‘hungries’) vary from book to book and this virus is quite interesting. The culprit is a fungus that made the species leap from using ants to driving humans. It’s based on actual science! Huzzah! In the world of entomology, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (a fungus) attaches itself to the body of an ant for one part of its life cycle. It eventually threads its way through the ant and takes over mobility, driving the ant to climb to a good height and jump off, thereby distributing its seed. This fungus is now using humans by taking control over an infected body and taking over certain functions, causing the need to bite and spread its seed. But there have been children found who possess the virus, will turn into biting savages if they smell an uninfected person, but act completely normal when no temptation is around. The classroom is designed to continuously test their cognitive and emotional function.
The story gets going when Miss Justineau realizes that Melanie is not in class and has been taken to Dr. Caldwell’s lab. She knows that Melanie has been chosen for destruction. Her sweet Melanie. The other soldiers and scientists have warned against emotional connections to the children, even perceiving them as children. They see them as beasts, inhuman. But Miss Justineau see a little girl with a disease, that’s all. When Miss Justineau runs to the lab to free Melanie, the compound becomes under attack by a group of raiders who drive an army of hungries to knock down the fence. When Miss Justineau is about to be killed, it is Melanie who saves her, using her teeth as a weapon.
Melanie, Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, and two military personnel, the only survivors of the attack, must cross hundreds of miles to a government holdout in Beacon with a dwindling supply of scent blocker. Melanie struggles with the realization of who and what she is. And when they get to Beacon, what will that mean for Melanie?
The story as a whole is a great mix of scifi action, thrilling zombies, and character growth. Melanie just wants to be a normal child, but she accepts that she isn’t. She loves books, and when people read to her, and she loves her new jeans with the emblazoned unicorn and pink shirt. Most of all, Melanie yearns for love. It’s heartbreaking for Miss Justineau and the reader when Melanie comes to terms with the fact that she’s the monster, that her kind is the reason for this post-apocalyptic world.
She is loved by Miss Justineau and while the rest of the people in her party begin to see her in a human light, it is Dr. Caldwell who is portrayed as the real monster – willing to cut the children open without anesthesia, using her frigid ability to completely tune out their cries for mercy. Of course, she’s driven by the need for a cure or vaccine, and she believes she’s incredibly close. It’s Melanie’s brain she needs.
I wasn’t happy with the way it ended. It isn’t a cop out or a non-ending, I just wasn’t a fan. It was disturbing. On the other side, it did contribute to Melanie’s character growth and was a testament to her intelligence level – or immaturity. I can’t decide.