I’ve read an awful lot of zombie stories over the past 10 years. I’m really not sure why, as zombies aren’t really my thing. I don’t watch The Walking Dead and I’m not an aficionado of George Romero movies. I think its just ended up that a lot of authors that I like have tried a zombie story, so I’ve gone along with it. Some have been great, like World War Z or This Year’s Class Picture. Some have been less wonderful…like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Cell. Some have an uplifting ending — a cure might be found, the zombies are eradicated, civilization is better than ever, etc. And some have the world end, that’s it, humanity finished. I don’t really have a preference, I just like them to be original.
The first third of The Girl with All the Gifts is wonderfully original, and I loved it. Melanie is a young girl who goes to a special school run by doctors and soldiers. She’s a brilliant student and a loving little girl, and yet the adults around her call her “an abortion” and keep her strapped into a wheelchair at all times. Melanie has a lovely young teacher named Miss Justineau, and Melanie loves her very much.
While Melanie learns about Greek mythology, history, math, science, and geography, she also learns about what life is like outside of their classroom. They live someplace in England, not far from Beacon, the only populated city left in the nation. The world has been decimated by “hungries” — zombies created by a fungus that turns people into brainless eating machines, and only a small number of humans still survive.
I loved learning about Melanie’s day-to-day life at school, and about all of the different teachers and the other adults around her.
And then, about 1/3 of the way in to the book, everything changes. And it isn’t that I didn’t like the rest of the book, I just didn’t love it as much as the beginning.
So it seems that Melanie is basically a hungry, but she can think and learn, so the evil Doctor Caldwell is hell bent on opening up her brain to find a cure for civilization. But before she can do that, the base where Melanie is kept is attacked by a horde of hungrier and junkers (humans who live in the wild and kill other humans). To save Miss Justineau, Melanie attacks some junkers and realizes what she is.
Melanie, Miss Justineau, Doctor Caldwell, the amazing Sergeant Parks, and another soldier, young Kieran Gallagher, escape and head toward London and Beacon. Melanie, who would never do anything to hurt Miss Justineau, finds her physical self at war with her mental self and keeps herself in a muzzle and on a leash. Doctor Caldwell is obsessed with getting a chance to experiment on Melanie, and potentially being the savior of the human race. Miss Justineau spends her time hating Doctor Caldwell and protecting Melanie. Gallagher tries hard not to show how frightened he is, and tries (and fails) to act brave at all times. Parks protects them all, and slowly comes to appreciate, and maybe even like, Melanie.
As soon as our little band of travelers came across the dead hungries with the huge fungal trunks growing out of their bodies, I knew where this was headed. Of course those pods were going to open up at some point and knock off the rest of the survivors. I just didn’t expect it to be because a 10 year old girl decided that now was a fine time for it, as long as Miss Justineau could come along for the ride.
Some say that the ending was uplifting, but I didn’t see it that way. Not like I wanted Caldwell to cut Melanie open and find a cure…but the end of the human race as we know it wasn’t exactly a happy ending. I don’t know. It just wasn’t the ending for me.
I don’t mean to sound like I didn’t like this book. I did. I just wish that I had enjoyed the part after the escape from the base as much as the preceding part. And yes, I plan on seeing the movie next week. Here’s hoping its as exciting as the trailer makes it out to be.