Friday, May 29, 2015

Zombies*R*Us - The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey and This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

I like to tell myself I'm not a fan of zombie books because of the gruesome factor but since I've read 4 and own at least 2 more, I very well may be telling myself a fib. Having said that, I didn't know The Girl With All the Gifts was a zombie book, of sorts. All I knew was that it was in some way dystopian and a friend thought it was excellent. And, I happen to trust that friend's judgment. So, I simply dived into the story blind.

From the publisher:

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius." Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant 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. 

My thoughts:

Melanie is what's known as a "Hungry" in this dystopian zombie book, but the difference between Melanie and the typical zombie is that she has a functioning brain; and, even more than that, she's actually well above average intelligence and has more empathy than most of the humans around her. It's her kindness and humanity that make her a compelling character. But, the fact that the book reads like an action movie makes the pages fly.

The Girl With All the Gifts begins on a military complex. There are Hungries outside the fence, as well as some human survivors who have banded together. I can't recall what the humans were called but they were every bit as terrifying as the Hungries, much like the Reavers in Firefly. When the military complex is overrun, Melanie and a handful of other survivors must band together on their quest for safety. It's been long enough since I read the book that I can't recall the name of the place they originally seek but I think it was called Beacon. The Girl With All the Gifts takes place in England and Beacon is, as I recall, beyond London. London is so huge that there's no way they can avoid going through it; and, where populations are larger, the danger increases. Will Melanie and the remaining humans survive long enough to make it to Beacon? Does Beacon even exist? Is there any hope at all for humanity? What will happen when Melanie begins to understand why everyone fears her?

Hmm, tough questions answered in a painful way. In fact, The Girl With All the Gifts has one of those endings that you'll either love or hate. I had to mull for a time and once I'd pondered it I decided it was rough in its way but not a bad ending so much as one that shakes you up a bit. So, in retrospect, I like it more now than I did when I closed the book. And, in fact, the sheer quantity of action in the book means it's the kind of book I'd enjoy reading a second time.

Recommended to those who like zombies or just favor a plot-driven novel that also contains distinctive characterization. There's plenty of violence and gore, so be forewarned that if you're easily overwhelmed by revolting descriptions, The Girl With All the Gifts can definitely be disturbing. It is, however, a unique story as zombie books go. The cause of the infection that turns humans into hungries is a fungus -- and that makes a surprising difference in how the disease manifests itself, allowing for continuing brain function in some humans who are, for all intents and purposes, no longer alive. I did love the science aspect of this particular novel, which struck me as more plausible than most.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers is a book I read wholly on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend. Again. What is it with friends and zombie books?

In this case, however, the enthusiasm had to do with the fact that it was less about zombies than about the characters and their attempt at survival. I tend to like a plot-driven book much more than one that's character-driven but I was curious after my friend Heather gushed about This Is Not a Test, so I added the book to my hold list and it arrived within about a week.

The zombie-inducing disease in This is Not a Test is a fast-moving virus -- so fast that it's hard to fully comprehend how this odd little group ended up banding together. Sloane has ended up with a group of teenagers who managed to find refuge in their high school. They're not all friends and two adults -- the parents of teenage twins among the survivors -- were lost on their quest for shelter. The twins blame one of the other survivors for their parents' death.

Sloane, the narrator, doesn't care. She was planning to commit suicide so she's not even certain why she's bothering to worry about the fact that nobody can sleep because the zombies are banging on the doors of the school. She still wants to die; it's just a matter of when and how. 6 months ago, her sister left home instead of waiting till Sloane's graduation to escape from their abusive father, leaving Sloane to deal with his violent outbursts on her own.

I had mixed feelings about This is Not a Test. There's really never any point at which the characters really get along. They manage to stick together in a loose way, carefully doling out the food and drinks in the school kitchen, and there are couplings and spats that fit the typical interactions within their age range. But, when an injured man calls for help outside the school and someone shows up inside, in spite of the fact that they're certain they have all the entrances blocked, things go completely haywire. When a faint radio signal informs them that there is, in fact, a place they can find other survivors, will they decide to take their chances outside the school? Is it even possible for anyone to survive out there?

Recommended but not a favorite - If you like zombie books and/or character-driven stories, this might be the book for you. But, I have to admit there was never a time I fully felt invested in This is Not a Test. I could understand Sloane's disinterest in survival but the emotional ups and downs, the waffling about whether or not to trust each other . . . I guess it just wasn't my thing. I liked the book enough to keep going and I think it was well-written. It was just more of an emotional book than an action book and I prefer fast-paced books when it comes to dystopian reading.

Oddly, I gave both of these books (both checked out from the library) 4 stars. In hindsight, I'd bump up The Girl With All the Gifts to 5 stars and knock This is Not a Test down a peg, if only for the fact that the former has stuck with me and I don't actually recall how This is Not a Test ended. I hate it when I forget an ending.

In other news: I haven't taken a single photo of the cats, this week, but I'll try to dig up an older one for Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day, tomorrow. I just don't think they'd go all that well with zombies, anyway.

©2015 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.



  1. Sounds like one hit and one miss. While I'm not a huge zombie fan I might try these some day.

    1. You'd probably like The Girl With All the Gifts best, too (just based on what you've liked in the past). As to the hit or miss thought . . . well, sort of. I enjoyed both; it's just that one stuck with me better and was more my favored reading material than the other. I'm surprised I can't remember how This is Not a Test ended. That doesn't happen often! Test was less gruesome than most zombie books till about 3/4 of the way through, which I count as a plus.

  2. I have a love-hate relationship with zombies. I love The Walking Dead; and I hate pretty much every other zombie story ever. I have to admit though that The Girl With All The Gifts sounds excellent.

    1. I've never seen The Walking Dead. I have a feeling I'd have more trouble stomaching zombies if I had to look at them. The Girl With All The Gifts is definitely an excellent addition to the genre. It's so very different from any other zombie book I've read. Another that I actually really enjoyed was The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell. It's written more like literature and is more thoughtful. It's funny -- I'd never deliberately go looking for a zombie book but I have enjoyed a few, and all for entirely different reasons.


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