For those of you interested in such things, the author of this widely acclaimed book has a long pedigree of writing comics and graphic novels, including Lucifer and as Mike Carey, he has also produced the enjoyable Felix Castor series. A film is also being made of The Girl With All the Gifts.
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks 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.
That’s the very short blurb, which takes you to the start of the book. I hope I’m not straying too much into spoiler territory by mentioning that a fungal infection has rampaged through humanity, causing unfortunate changes. Yes… before you ask, we are talking a type of zombie, or hungries as they are called in the book. While the book is written in multiple viewpoints, the protagonist is unquestionably young Melanie, a very bright little girl who loves learning. And her teacher, Miss Justineau, who smiles at her and the other children in the class, talks to them kindly and reads them stories. Whereas Mr Whitaker is often angry and hung over. Everyone knows he drinks too much.
The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, because Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work.
I’m not a major fan of zombie apocalypse stories. Other than a couple of notable exceptions, I find the general gore and mayhem too much as I’m prone to nightmares. But this particular book drew me right in – how could anyone not love Melanie? Though I wasn’t too far through, when I figured it wouldn’t necessarily end well…
And I’m still musing over the ending. I’ll continue to do so for some long time, I reckon. This is a book that has crept under my skin and impinged on my inscape – I’ve even dreamt about it. No doubt about it – it’s one of my outstanding reads of the year. And even if you don’t generally read dystopian novels, or zombie anything – track it down. For once, the hype was right.