Release Date: June 10, 2014
Published by: Orbit
Source: Digital ARC / NetGalley
Author Links: mikeandpeter.com
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius."
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
I haven't read many zombie stories this year, but what I've gotten my hands on so far has been pretty impressive. Oh....you didn't know this was a story about the undead? That's okay. I didn't either until I skimmed a couple of early reviews.
I'm not sure why they decided to keep this synopsis so vague. The line "She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh" could mean a lot of things. Maybe she's a vampire. Or a werewolf. We could even assume she's a little flesh-eating cannibal. I'm just a tad bit concerned that zombie fans will miss out on this because they won't realize what it's about. Or that non-zombie fans will read this and feel like they've been misled and hate it.
The beginning of The Girl with All the Gifts had me hooked. I was fascinated by Melanie's character, a brilliant little girl who has spent the majority of her childhood inside of a cell. Anytime she needed to attend class or visit the showers, she was strapped down in a wheelchair and escorted by armed guards. Not for her protection, but for everyone else's. It becomes obvious from the start that Melanie is a "hungry" and she doesn't even realize it.
She doesn't fit the typical profile for one of the undead. She's smart and articulate, she has feelings, and she can temporarily suppress the urge to feed. Unfortunately, these differences make Melanie and other children like her desired test subjects.
Her relationship with her teacher, Miss Justineau, was another part of the story that I found fascinating. I want to describe it as a mother-daughter relationship but that's not quite right. Melanie loved Miss Justineau fiercely and was very protective of her. She was her everything. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
Now it's Melanie's turn to hesitate. She doesn't know the words for this. "You're my bread," she says at last. "When I'm hungry. I don't mean that I want to eat you, Miss Justineau! I really don't! I'd rather die than do that. I just mean ... you fill me up the way the bread does to the man in the song. You make me feel like I don't need anything else."
I was a little disappointed when this story changed directions and became the more typical zombie tale where the group had to travel from Point A to Point B without being eaten. Don't get me wrong, I like that type of story. It's just that I was expecting more originality considering how it all began. But despite my small complaint, I would still recommend The Girl with All the Gifts to any zombie fan.