So, this book was totally not what I expected. Mostly because I wasn’t expecting a zombie novel. And I never would have picked it up if I’d known it was. But its, even though they don’t call the infected people “zombies.” That’s exactly what they are. Despite that, it was a great read, which proves that it’s sometimes a good idea to read outside your comfort zone.
The Girl with All the Gifts is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian Britain, in which only a few pockets of safety remain for humanity after a deadly plague has wiped out many people and left most of those who survived as mindless, cannibalistic “hungries” (so, basically zombies). Melanie, the titular girl with all the gifts, is a brilliant, curious, compassionate ten-year-old who grows up in a research facility, not fully understanding either who she is or what’s happening to the world around her.
Then all hell breaks loose, the zombies get into the research facility/military base, and a ragtag group of survivors is on the run for their lives, learning against all odds to trust each other. This sounds very cliche but the thoughtful and nuanced characterization lifts it above the cliche. This is a smart, literary novel about real people who just happen to be being pursued by zombies, and who have real and serious choices to make against this backdrop.
Due to my queasiness, I had to skim over some descriptive passages, but the novel and its characters (who alternate points of view, which helps them all become real and fleshed-out people — gee, I’m sorry I said “flesh” in my review of the only zombie novel I’ll ever read) kept my attention riveted to the end.
The end. I’ve had to think a lot about this ending. I’ve just reviewed a book (Belzhar) whose ending made me rethink everything I liked about the story. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending of The Girl with All the Gifts. It seemed satisfying at the time, in a weird and twisted way, but the more I think about it the less sure I am. I’ve decided not to spoil this one, even below the “read more” cut, but if anyone else has read this, post in the comments and I’ll post my question about the ending there, because I’d really like to discuss the ending with someone else who’s read it. This is an excellent, thought-provoking, and troubling book.