It probably says something about my feelings toward the holidays this year that I happened to be reading The Girl With All the Gifts over Christmas. Isn't the end of December typically the time when we seek out feel-good, family-friendly fare? Not this year, apparently. Instead of curling up by a crackling fire with Little Women, I spent my time in between family gatherings in a gray fungal hellscape with a small but scrappy group of survivors, all trying their best to evade tireless hordes of flesh-eating zombies.
A bit out of season though it may have been, I enjoyed the book immensely. The setup is fascinating: a little girl is kept in a locked cell. Every morning, when she is transported from her cell to her schoolroom, she is strapped into a wheelchair that restricts her movements. A guard keeps a gun trained on her until she is fully restrained. She is never allowed to touch anyone. The girl, Melanie, doesn't know why everyone is so afraid of her and the other children in the cell block. She certainly doesn't feel dangerous, doesn't want to hurt anyone.
When the compound is attacked by outsiders, Melanie and a handful of adults escape together, but the danger is just beginning. Their safe haven is gone—and it turns out that Melanie wasn't really safe there to begin with, thanks to the efforts of a frighteningly single-minded doctor who wants more than anything to dissect and study her. As the group journeys through a wasted landscape with monsters hidden at every turn, Melanie starts to realize who—or what—she is.
This book has all the elements of a great action movie: intense fight sequences, a creative setup, bleak dystopian setting, a plucky young protagonist, and just enough ethical shades of gray to keep it interesting. If you've got a bit of a holiday hangover, or just want a fun escape before the new year, The Girl With All the Gifts would be an excellent choice.