The Girl with All the Gifts breathes life into its genre with a fresh angle on the pathology of an outbreak and an ending that I truly did not expect. The story opens at a noticeably unconventional school/dormitory, where the pupils are carefully monitored and restrained when they are not locked in their individual cells. Our primary protagonist, Melanie, is one such pupil, a bright girl of about ten who loves learning, particularly math and stories of Greek mythology. Her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, encourages the children creatively and is willing to go a bit off curriculum in the name of knowledge. Even though interaction outside of the classroom is not permitted in their shared high-security environment, Melanie and Miss Justineau seem to have a shared connection.
I really don’t want to give too much away, because the story unfolds so well and, mercifully, there aren’t a lot of superfluous jump scares or extraneous exposition to artificially inflate the sense or horror or drama. Vague semi-spoiler: there are zombies in this book, but it isn’t an us vs. them straightforward survival story; it’s an exploration of consciousness and ambiguity. It’s a very careful, lean book that is driven by its characters responding to the dangers and obstacles of their environment, whether that’s the walls of the school or out in the wild world where the “hungries” roam.
As with anything zombie-related, there’s a pretty good deal of bio-gore and those with a faint heart may want to proceed with caution. However, there isn’t too much gore just for the sake of gore, and a lot of the more chilling descriptions are more clinical rather than scary. In all, the scene-setting is better captured by mood and tone of the interaction between the characters than it is by vivid description. My one gripe with the story, not that it really added a ton of wasted time, was the inclusion of a redshirt character who does little other than reminisce about his alcoholic father and get a little crush on Miss Justineau. I’m not sure why he needed to be there, but it’s true that the book didn’t truly suffer from his inclusion.
If it weren’t obvious by now, I recommend.