Apocalyptic reads: “The Girl With All The Gifts” is a gripping and emotional book

This book is a terrific, devour-all- at-once event. I read a short excerpt and was hooked. I had to find out why angelic and innocent-seeming ten-year old Melanie was kept in a cell and removed only under heavy restraint and only for class. She is hated, feared and mocked as a monster by her chief captor, Sergeant Parks, referred to coldly as test subject number one by Dr. Caldwell. But her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, sees her as a gifted little girl. Which is she?

Or is she all of the above and much, much more?

This novel begins with a puzzle, builds to a bang, takes a bloody and chilling road trip and ends on a note, however small, of hope and renewal. The story of ten-year old Melanie, teacher Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks, scientist Caldwell and “The Breakdown” – the event that brought them together – is intense, horrific, fast paced and heartbreakingly human. That humanness is ironic, because “The Breakdown” infected much of humanity with a ravenous, unstoppable fungus that transforms the unfortunate host into a mindless eating machine.

Preferred prey? Us, of course.

Yes, this is a zombie apocalypse. But don’t let that overused trope make you miss this excellent book. Carey’s characters are nuanced and believable. During their journey, they deepen and evolve in their relationships and their understanding of themselves. As they learn more about the nature of the fungus and how to combat it they learn more about Melanie and how special she is. As an infected “host” who has not lost her humanity, she holds the key to mankind’s survival – if Dr. Caldwell doesn’t dissect her first.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but I will say the ending, bleak as it is, offers the seeds of hope and the possibility of renewal. The final scene, of Miss Justineau in a hazmat suit teaching the alphabet, is impossible to forget. I like that Carey’s apocalypse, horrific and bloody as it is, is bookended by a caring teacher and a classroom of eager pupils. Don’t miss this one, even if you’re done with zombies.