Every now and then, about once every year, I read a book that is completely outside of my usual reading fare. Last year, it was Let the Right One In. This year, it was The Girl With All the Gifts. I actually started this in the fall, had to return it to the library before finishing, and then it took until after Christmas for the book to become available again. I tell you, it was HARD to wait for my turn, because the suspense, especially in the first half or so, is great. And the opening is one of the best I’ve read in a long time.
Melanie is a very intelligent 10-year-old girl who, together with other children, is kept in a prison. Every day, she gets strapped into a chair and wheeled into a classroom, where different teachers tell them about the world as we know it. Melanie’s favorite teacher is Miss Justineau. Other than the rather unusual circumstances, Melanie seems like a more or less “normal” kid, until we get to the point where all the children are brought into a bathroom of sorts, sprayed with chemicals, and then fed grubs. Then we start to find out that Melanie is a “hungry,” bound to eat people if they don’t cover their smell with more chemicals. The world as we know it no longer exists; most of humankind was infected with a fungus many years ago, changing the world irrevocably. Melanie is held captive on a military base where doctors study her and the other children in the hopes of finding a cure, because unlike the hungries on the outside, the imprisoned children show signs of immunity against the fungal infection.
It took me until reading other reviews after finishing the book to realize that yes, indeed, this is a zombie book. HELLO, where have I been??? (Clearly, nowhere near the zombie craze that swept the land not too long ago!) I tell you this to say that I am not the best judge of this particular subject matter, but I thought the world building and disaster scenario was great and completely believable. The fungal infection, as presented here, made perfect sense to me, and the medical and scientific explanations all seemed reasonable. It induced just the right amount of fear and nausea.
Of course, things don’t go very smoothly for very long for the protagonists. Aside from the fact that people have to make do with equipment that is 20+ years old, a bunch of junkers (uninfected people living outside of the military base) attacks the base and soon Melanie and Miss Justineau find themselves in the wilderness, together with a doctor who wants to dissect Melanie, a gruff sergeant, and a young soldier, all trying to reach a safe zone. Without a working vehicle, they face a several days’ long march through the English countryside, trying not to awaken the zombies with their human smell, loud noises, or sudden movements. This becomes more complicated once the group reaches an area densely populated with hungries and runs out of the chemical that masks their smell.
At this point, the story lost me a little bit: plenty of hiding, shooting, and Melanie trying not to eat Miss Justineau. But the end absolutely pulled me out of the little funk I had fallen into. What an end! It was surprising and ironic and just right. So I do recommend this book if you are in an “end of the world” kind of mood.
This is the first book this year I am pairing with the Share-a-Tea challenge, which is hosted by Becky’s Book Reviews. The idea of the challenge is to share which particular tea you enjoyed while reading, just as the name implies.
I do drink coffee in the morning, but once I get to work, I usually switch to tea. And I usually drink 2 or 3 cups of tea over the course of each day, more if I have time to hide away with a book at night. With my mind on the pollution of body and soul that is going on in The Girl With All the Gifts, I drank plenty of EveryDay Detox from Traditional Medicinals while reading. The tea is pleasantly bitter, with a hint of citrus. It’s not the type of tea I usually drink, but after all the indulgences that came with the holidays, it has been a welcome addition to my tea assortment.