Ten-year-old Melanie’s world consists of the four walls of her room, the corridor and the schoolroom. She loves school, and even more so if it’s Miss Justineau’s day to teach. To all extents and purposes, Melanie seems just like any other little girl, but it soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems. Every time Melanie leaves her room, she’s strapped into a wheelchair, unable to move or even turn her head. Her classmates have a habit or disappearing and never coming back, and the guards never relinquish their grip on their guns.
It’s hard to go much further without giving away spoilers, but we soon find out that Melanie and her classmates are anything but normal children. In the wake of an unexpected and deadly event, society is struggling to survive. Melanie’s schoolroom is on a scientific army base, where people are desperately searching for solutions, whatever the cost.
Once the big revelation is out of the way, the novel proceeds in much the same format as other post-apocalyptic, dystopian books and TV programmes, where a small group must survive in the wild against all odds, facing a whole host of supernatural and human threats. It reminded me in a way of Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’, or of the popular TV show, ‘The Walking Dead’.
However, despite these comparisons, I thought this book managed to put a truly original twist on a popular genre. It was intense and moving, and I really empathised with all of the characters and the choices they had to make. It’s an exploration of what it means to be human, the blurring of right and wrong and the lengths that people will go to in order to preserve life. But as well as that, it’s also a thriller. Nail-bitingly tense at times, the tension and pace never lets up as the characters are thrown from one situation to another. I found it hard to put down and devoured it in a couple of days.
While Melanie was fascinating as a character, I found scientist Caroline Caldwell to be one of the most interesting to read. She is presented as the villain of the piece, through Melanie’s eyes, but as a reader we can see her motivations and to some extent understand where she’s coming from as she consistently oversteps the bounds morally. We’re asked to question whether the end justifies the means – and in this case, whether it’s right to sacrifice a few to potentially save the future of humankind.
I can’t comment on the ending without giving away spoilers, but I REALLY didn’t see it coming! The author takes all of the expectations her readers might have from this genre and turns them on their head. It makes a really powerful statement about what makes someone human and how we could possibly move on from a world where everything we know and understand has been lost.