Verdict: Haunting and vivid. A good, well-written story with new ideas but some predictable elements.
The story starts with Melanie, a young girl who doesn’t like her name. It doesn’t suit her, she thinks, and she would rather be called Pandora, which means ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’.
She knows all about Pandora, from the Greek myths her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau, reads the class.
So far, so innocent. Except Melanie’s life is soon revealed not to be so typical. She’s not just any teacher’s pet in a regular school. Through Melanie’s innocent, unassuming eyes, we see something in her life is terribly wrong.
Her world is so regimented, closed-down and familiar, Melanie can’t imagine what life would be like beyond her cell, or beyond the one corridor in which all her classmates live. On one end of the corridor is the classroom. On the other, a heavy, barricaded door through which sometimes children disappear and don’t come back. Her life as a prisoner is so ordinary she doesn’t realise she is a prisoner, until something unexpected happens and she’s thrown out into the world beyond the corridor.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a beautifully written, mid-apocalypse story, hailed by some as a new ‘zombie’ novel. Certainly, the book’s antagonists, dubbed ‘hungries’, resemble the shambling undead terrors we know and love from films and TV shows. But, beyond that, the book is a study of human behaviour when under threat, and takes a look at how far humans are willing to go – and what terrible things they are willing to do – in order to survive, not only individually, but as a species.
The characters, with the exception of Miss Justineau and Melanie herself, I found to be quite typical of the zombie / apocalypse genre. There was the hardened soldier and the rookie, the (arguably) mad scientist who somehow fails to see the obvious, and a whole lot of collateral damage. As individual characters, they were compelling and certainly had depth, but their roles in the story were predictable throughout, down to the last night shared between Sergeant Parks and Miss Justineau, before the ‘final battle’.
Miss Justineau and Melanie, and their relationship, was the most interesting thing. They are each other’s saviours, something Melanie has wanted for years: to be a hero in Miss Justineau’s eyes, just like the people in the Greek myths. It is this desire that saves Melanie and allows her to retain her high-functioning brain instead of resorting to base instinct, and furthers the plot to its irrepressible, haunting end.
Side note: Feral zombie children are as creepy as all get out. The scene in the grocery shop? No thank you. No thank you. It's Lord of the Flies meets The Walking Dead.
This book is a wonderful gem of modern horror, and I’d recommend everyone read it at least once. Not only is it a well-written and interesting story in its own right, it draws a beautiful parallel with the story of Pandora’s Box: that with all the terrible things in the world, there can be a little bit of hope too.