Oh, will someone think of the (zombie) children? 😛
“The Girl With All the Gifts” is about twice as good as you’d expect a novel about a wide-eyed, sensitive, lesbian zombie child with an off-the-charts IQ to be.
At first the premise threw me off- call me a traditionalist, I but I think of zombies as shambling wrecks of people who moan and groan and have absolutely no qualms about eating human flesh. They do not think, reason, and enthuse about Greek mythology. A precocious zombie tyke with a nagging conscience? Puh-leeze (to be fair, there were some of the voracious mindless variety of undead in this book too.) But further on through this odd but innovative book, I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall in love with little Melanie and her benignly waffling ‘should-I-shouldn’t-I ‘ approach to cannibalism.
Melanie isn’t like other kids, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to make connections as she navigates a cell block where she is kept prisoner in post-apocalyptic Britain. During the breakdown, millions of people died from a rampaging fungal infection and were suspended in a middling state between life and death, These ‘hungries’ soon wiped out the majority of the population, and the remaining British population has either holed itself up in the crime-ridden city of Beacon, escaped to a large research facility, or become a vicious, feral ‘junker.’
Then there are the ‘others,’ children who incongruously are neither Hungry nor human, but straddle both worlds and are used as experiments by the cure-seeking government. Enter Melanie, a bright, clear-eyed girl who loves her kind, lovely teacher, Miss Justineau (although this infatuation is less lust than hero worship.) In truth Justineau is there to gauge the children’s intellectual capabilities to prepare them for dissection, but she has grown to quite like her zombified, studious little pupils, especially Melanie, a strange child whose intelligence is only matched by her eagerness to learn.
Melanie dreams of saving Mrs. Justineau and whisking her away from the awful research facility, but it is Justineau who saves Melanie from going under the knife on the cold operating table of evil scientist and uber-bitch extraordinaire Caroline Caldwell- just in time for a devastating junker attack. On the run from junkers and hungries alike, Justineau, Caldwell, Melanie to two military men named Parks and Gallagher escape in an RV, intent of staying away from the evil that has consumed their base. Meanwhile, Melanie tries her hardest not to succumb to her cannibalistic desires.
Even Miss Justineau would be on the menu, and nobody wants that, least of all Melanie. While Parks and Caldwell seem to be somewhat archetypical (Parks is a hard, brutal military man, while Caldwell will do anything in the name of science- even dissect zombie children without anesthesia,) Justineau comes off as just plain naive at times, balking at the idea of Melanie being restrained despite Melanie’s intense yearning to devour human flesh (you can’t do that! She’s a child! How would you like to be tied up if you were a homicidal cannibalistic zombie child?”)
The book is pretty well-written, with a handful of decent metaphors and a rich vocabulary, and Melanie herself is a compelling character, once you get past her distinctly non-zombie-like affect. The science is studied- a little too studied, in my opinion; the passages on the contagion get a little long winded- but the upside of this is that the virus and it’s effects are frighteningly and acutely believable. Despite the fact that several of the main players are slightly stereotypical, “The Girl With All the Gifts” has fairly good character development, especially considering it’s genre (sci-fi/horror) and the author’s background (mostly comic books.)
Most of the novel is exciting and fast-paced, with lots of fight sequences and scenes of horror and gore, but it ultimately has it’s heart in the right place as well as teeth bared at your throat. Containing scenes of both touching tenderness and biting social commentary about those who are only considered worthy as far as they can help us move forward in society- in the name of science and otherwise, “The Girl With All the Gifts” is an easy read, but by no means a brainless one (no pun intended.) It’s intense, compelling, and sometimes scarily plausible.
A note on the movie- Hearing that Paddy Considine (“Dead Man’s Shoes,” “My Summer of Love”) was going to be in the film adaptation is the best news I’ve heard all week. But I’m a little puzzled as to why Miss Justiineau (portrayed as a black woman in the book) will be played by Gemma Arterton (“The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” “The Voices,” a lily-white actress. I like Arterton, but cannot fathom her playing a character that was written to be African-American.
Likewise, Melanie (who was described as ‘very fair’ within the first few sentences) and Gallagher (who was supposed to be a ginger) are played by African American actors. I mean, what the fuck? I know I’ll get flack for this (mix it up and all that,) but can’t the characters stay within the races the author assigned for them? Just a thought. Nevertheless, I eagerly anticipate this movie and hope it can live up to the the potential the book established.