My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
Let me start by saying that I have read a lot of zombie fiction. It is kind of my thing. I’m not exactly sure why I’m drawn to it but I am. I think it has to do with my interest in people surviving. I love survival stories and how some people do, how some don’t, and how some just have terrible luck. Zombie fiction can examine so pretty deep themes, but one of the greatest thing that emerges from zombie fiction is the focus on characters and how they face adversity.
When I picked up The Girl With All the Gifts, my expectations were high despite not knowing much of the story. In many ways that was as much of a benefit to my enjoyment as it was a detriment. I went into this story blind and honestly feel like most people need to do this for this story. Know that yes, this is a zombie story, but don’t really dig for anything else. So if you haven’t read this but would like to and remain spoiler free begone. I’m not going into real plot spoilers, but it’s hard to discuss this book without some spoilers that we learn early in the book, but really color the experience.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story, but there were definitely issues that kept me from really falling in love with it despite an interesting plot and some interesting characters. It just felt like it wasn’t quite sure what to do with itself at some points.
So go away if you don’t want to know the major twist.
You still here?
Okay well, if you’ve stuck around I’m assuming that you would like a more in depth discussion of this story and it’s merits. Like I said I’m not going to spoil the whole book for you, but there is a major plot twist/element that occurs/ is clarified within the first quarter of the novel.
The story opens with the introduction of Melanie, a young girl who lives in intense confinement well into the zombie apocalypse. From the moment you meet her you know that there is something odd about Melanie that isn’t quite clear. She’s constantly strapped to a slab only occasionally getting an arm free to write or draw. Despite being so young, she’s incredibly intelligent far greater than she should. It is really refreshing because she is so sharp. She’s keenly aware of what is going on and has this range of emotions that feels real. She knows no other life and it may be a strange one, but for the most part she is content. Yet you know that something isn’t quite right.
It doesn’t take long to piece together that Melanie is infact a zombie herself. However, she’d very different in that she retains a sense of self and that she learns, and evolves, she speaks and feels. We eventually learn more about that which is interesting in it’s own right. However, it is the confirmation that she is being studied because she and her classmates are not the average zombies is something that is really fascinating.
That leads to the introduction of the most irritating character in the novel, the scienctist, Dr. Caldwell. This woman is positively vile and insufferable. As you constantly see how she treats Melanie and her classmates its hard to be on her side. To her, these are not people who are cognizant and feel, they are just monsters attacked by the fungus that decimated society. Dr. Caldwell wants answers. As a reader, I suffered a huge conundrum as I wanted her to find the answers, but at the same time didn’t want to see what she would really do to Melanie. It would not be good and we saw repeatedly that she only cared about finding the cure for pride.
Where the novel really took a negative detour for me was the sudden shift that forced a group of the characters to go onto a standard journey to the human base camp. While their actual traavels weren’t all that bad, it felt like it took the characters away from an incredibly interesting path that the story could have taken. I found myself wishing that we could have remained in the secure location and dealt with the problems that could have arisn with testing the children and finding a cure and generally reaching their wits end in this apocalypse. Instead we went on a fairly standard traipse across the land that we see in a lot of zombie fiction.
The focus was on the characters, but there were long stretches where not much was happening either plot wise or character development wise. Eventually I felt like they just needed to reach their goal because I was growing tired of the characters behaving the same way and not really evolving or having their opinions change. The result was that Sargeant Parks ended up being the most interesting character followed by Melanie. And let me tell you, Melanie’s progression was fascinating, but also hit a point where it felt like it was retreading until the very end of the book.
The end was both satisfying and not while being a sign that knowing the reason behind the apocalypse is not the most compelling aspect of these stories. We learned not only what it was that changed people, but also how it affected the zombie, also what the next step was in their evolution. The ending addressed that directly and left me with a giant WTF after such a well thought out book. Those finale few moments just did not work for me at all and not because I didn’t like the idea, but it didn’t make logical sense.