So shoot me. I know, it's past its apex. And even my fascination has run a bit thinner--I've gotten much more discerning about my zombie media consumption. But the best zombie stories are really empty world stories; they're about living on the brink of annihilation, in which everything familiar has become a threat, and there's something hypnotic about this notion that I don't know if I'll ever really get all the way past.
And that is all to the good, because along comes M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts, and after reading the free five chapter preview on Amazon, I sat on the edge of my chair and waited...waited...waited for it to be available in the states. But then I lucked into an advance copy, and the rest is (or shortly will be) history.
Oh, I hate doing this part of the review, where I try to tell you the premise in a way that's interesting and catchy--I'm not a blurbologist. Melanie's world is limited to classes and her cell, teachers, other children, and soldiers. Something's off about it, but you figure out fairly quickly what's going on--civilization has mostly fallen, and we are in a military lab trying to cure the disease that turns people into hungries.
Melanie is crackling smart, and patient with her very restricted world. She loves learning, and she especially loves her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau. Her story is the story of a little girl who has nothing, but loves the world anyway, and it's incredibly touching, even after you establish that there is something deeply amiss about this world, and even about Melanie.
This book... this book. It's about how tragedy hones you down into the essence of yourself. It's about how passions can become obsessions, and how one person's collapsed remains of a world is another's new opportunity. Sure, it's about what it means to be human, but it's also about what it means to see someone as human, which is another thing entirely.
Plot-wise, mostly it's a traditional British Walking Adventure, though, making our way across a destroyed British landscape. The walking part has been hit or miss for me historically, but it's done well here, and the post-apocalyptic landscape is a very solid example of the genre. But what makes you--me--love the book is Melanie, Justineau, and Parks, and how you come to root for each of them. Even Caldswell is intriguing and fascinating and...maybe admirable? I'm not sure I'd go that far.
But I can't put the book down, which is everything I wanted it to be. I highly recommend grabbing the Extended Free Preview (which is listed as the Kindle edition on Amazon right now). I think that's all you need to get how I feel about this book.