Summary: Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
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.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
Genre: horror, science fiction
Who knew a book about zombies could be so heartbreaking? I was not expecting this book to simultaneously tug at my heart, make me feel like yelling, and have me cheering for a little girl who maybe sometimes eats people. The Girl with All the Gifts truly has everything, and was a perfect October read.
I loved the ambiguity here. Even the summary is incredible vague and doesn’t quite give away that Melanie is a zombie. There are obvious hints of it in the beginning of the story, but if you go into this story truly blind, it takes a few chapters before you fully put together that she’s a zombie. In fact, that word is never used in the entire book. Instead, they’re called hungries, and there’s nothing stereotypical about them.
Melanie is a hungry, but she recognizes the emotions she feels, she’s incredibly smart, and she’s self-aware, even if she doesn’t quite understand what makes her so different. In a similar vein of Warm Bodies, the reader can’t help feeling some adoration and empathy for her, especially because she’s so close to being just a normal little girl.
The heartbreak of the story comes with Melanie’s discovery of not only what she is, but also what the world is really like. She was kept in an institute where she learned the world’s history from before the outbreak, and she didn’t ever remember being outside. The reader discovers the outside world alongside Melanie, which is as devastating as it is profound.
The world-building here is truly incredible, and I was blown away, yet again, by how different this is from other zombie stories. One of the side characters in this story is a scientist, and she became a crucial piece of the puzzle, as she not only believed she could create a cure for the outbreak, but also because she gave us all the explanations we needed. Despite being heavy with science jargon at times, the science behind the outbreak actually made sense and was a unique take on the zombie trend. It was also interesting to see how the zombies’ bodies evolved.
The other characters in this story are a bit too perfect: one of them is a military man with all the knowledge and expertise to keep the group alive; he conveniently grabbed one of his cronies to help them; the scientist gives the reader the history and reasoning behind the outbreak; the teacher is Melanie’s only source of comfort. And yet, I couldn’t help but love (or love to hate) all of them. They’re such well drawn out characters, each of them with their own internal struggles and histories, and they meshed together horribly albeit beautifully. I also enjoyed Melanie’s relationship with all of them. Despite the book being told in third person POV with alternating chapters focusing on certain characters, I couldn’t help but feel Melanie’s reactions to these characters as my own. When she despised someone, I did too; when she started to warm up to them, I started to understand why they maybe weren’t such a horrible person. Each character had a staggering amount of growth throughout the story, which isn’t an easy feat.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure where the plot was going for most of the book and worried everything was going to end abruptly and leave a lot of unanswered questions, considering the main quest of the story never really ended. However, I was surprised by how the story carried out, and the ending was absolutely devastating.
In a world where zombies are all the rage, flooded with books and movies and tv shows, The Girl with All the Gifts is genuinely a standout story.