Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."
I can't remember what first led me to The Girl With All the Gifts (2014) by M.R. Carey, but the above blurb sucked me in, and I like to get out of my reading comfort zone every now and again with some less-read genres. Horror is something I usually avoid, so this was a good book for me.
What I didn't realize going in, is that this is a zombie book. The world is desperately fighting between the "hungries" and the uninfected in England. The story begins from Melanie's point of view, a little girl, and a very unique hungry. She is smart and curious and loves her teacher, Miss Justineau, more than anyone. The cast is rounded out with a battle-hardened Sergeant Parks, a results-oriented Doctor Caroline Caldwell, and the young, untested soldier.
The story moves in unexpected directions, staying suspenseful throughout. All of the main characters are three-dimensional and flawed. I could understand their motivations, and even though they were technically all on the same team, their conflicting goals kept tensions high and the story fascinating. This book was violent, unique, and disturbing but worth the read.
The ethics of Dr. Caldwell using and torturing smart, hungry children to learn more and potentially find a cure for what's going on was fascinating and disturbing. Dr. Caldwell is heartless, almost to the point of crazy, but what if she were able to save thousands and millions of lives? What price is that worth? And how do we determine the value of lives that we deem less than human, whether they can feel pain or not?
The ending was also not what I expected and horrific in it's own way. On the one hand, Melanie turned out to be much worse than the humans feared, personally causing the end of the human race--a true horror. On the other hand, Melanie is smart and pragmatic. It was probably going to happen anyway. She was acting perfectly rationally from her perspective. Is it bad that the world is evolving? Only to those being left behind. And Miss Justineau will survive for the time being, but even as open-minded as she was in the classroom, this is not a world she wanted.
The only parts of the book that bothered me were when I felt that Carey had his characters do something beyond stupid in order to further the plot. I felt this the most strongly when Miss Justineau shot off the flare because she was worried about Melanie. Sure, it worked out all right in the end, but with the information she knew, some semblance of self preservation should have prevented her from doing it.