Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Girl With All the Gifts

This book, simply put, hit me right in the gut. I started reading this book one evening and finished it three days later. It would have been sooner had I not had to deal with work and school. Even with that, I cancelled plans simply to free up my schedule so that I could devote more time to reading. Rearranging my schedule last minute to read a book happens, but it's rare. By the time I finished the book, my eyes were dry and sore, my brain going a mile a minute, and I couldn't start my next book right away because I was still wrapped up in this.

A little back story, I managed to fall down a zombie-loving hole a few years ago. I never identified myself as a horror buff and still do not, but I found I began watching more movies and shows with zombies being featured. I think this is partly due to the zombie fascination in our culture as a whole. With The Walking Dead being so popular and various movies making their debuts, it's hard to dip into sci-fi or horror without passing a plot with zombies in it. I wonder if zombies are the new vampires in entertainment and will eventually be forced back into the shadows, but that's another thought for another day.

From various zombie-related works I've received or read, there seems to be specific ingredients to create the piece. Men wielding guns, a broken-down society, possibly some crazy scientists, and a love triangle of some sort. Plus the usual dash of death and innards. I started this book expecting that but it came out to be so much more. Somehow, M.R. Carey managed to take a theme and create an entirely new storyline.

Let's kick off with a quick who is who. Melanie is a sweet child in a rather odd situation. She is locked into a windowless room nightly and come morning, after she is strapped into a wheel chair while under the sight of a gun, she's wheeled off to a classroom to receive elementary lessons. Well, except for once a week when she gets a shower and a meal of maggots. Already, you know Melanie isn't a normal human and yet... her heart is very human-like.

Occasionally, children in the classroom are taken away by the doctor on base and never return. When it comes to Melanie taking a turn with the doctor, she's saved, then all hell breaks loose. With the help of a teacher, the scientific (and somewhat insane) thought process of our neighborhood doctor, and the gun-slinging safety of two soldiers, we're taken away from the safe world Melanie only knows and thrown into the light.

Now onto the details and my thoughts on different areas of the novel:

Many reviews and the novel itself identify Melanie’s relationship with Ms. Justineau (her favorite teacher) as a crush or innocent love. I like to think she idolizes Ms. Justineau, but is that what a childhood crush on an adult is? This child who has never experienced love in her present memory but has the mental capability to construct emotions and memory, to find the good and bad of a situation, zeroes in on the one adult in her tiny world that shows her kindness and helps to make her mind grow from the lessons she teaches. Of course she idolizes her, I’m sure any child would in such a situation. 

Ms. Justineau herself is a smart woman who has many talents. She isn’t just a teacher but a scientist. She’s caring to Melanie, strong and determined. She’s also filled with self-loathing from an incident that happened long in the past. However, I enjoy that her past and the darker edge to her character never really appeared to Melanie nor became what she was known for. She was still, every step of the way, protective and caring to the little girl despite all that’s going on around them and it felt genuine. Her personality is consistent but she grows by means that the author finds out more about her past.

The other major characters in the book change and grow in the more classic manner. We have our crazy scientist who starts off being someone I didn’t pay much attention to. I found the villain to be the SGT who straps Melanie to her chair and wheels her (and the other children) to and from their rooms or off to be experimented on. He was the number one jerk in this book, but then he began to change and grow into a person with a lot more layers than the front he gave. Or maybe it was more that I had a better grasp as to who he was and accepted him, faults and all. The scientist, however, went from being a side character to one who was without a doubt a villain. Rather, there is the argument of what makes a villain. In this book, it's a moralistic view. How do you see children, how are you willing to do experiments on them? Well, by disassociating yourself. She too is a character that makes understandable judgment calls if you focus on where she is coming from. But to the outsider, she doesn’t really have her heart in the right place. And yet… yet we are provided additional information that makes it steadily more and more clear as to why she is the way she is and she too becomes more acceptable.

I appreciated that this book wasn't fully focused on the gore that often goes hand-in-hand with zombie books. It gets tiring and I'd rather have plot than skull-bursting action. We have action, we have some gore, but there is always the sense of poetry in the words left to describe the events. It's a story and these are events but they are not lingered upon in a gross way.

This book also did something else -- it honestly gave me the creeps. Bravo to the author who did his research. There's a real life fungus, better known as zombie fungus, which attacks ants in the Amazon and our friendly author managed to pull from that and create a zombie epidemic that sounds entirely possible. After making the poor decision to look up the fungus, I was sufficiently creeped out and giving side eye to the author for aiding to my nightmares.

All in all, this was a great book! Even with the nightmares because you know it was good enough to construct such creepy feelings and bad dreams. I couldn't stop thinking of Melanie after I finished the book. I wanted to know more, I wanted a check in on how she is, but the book doesn't really need a sequel. It was perfectly written as it was.

By the way, this was a book I borrowed from a friend and I have every intention of buying my own copy so I can have it on hand and read it again. So get yourself to a bookstore and grab a copy as soon as you can! I loved it that much!

Last Week's Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Next Week's Review: The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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