Here are the members of the members of the Beacon Muster (the name of the mission team).
Carey excels at putting the reader inside the minds of these fellow travelers, but he is at his best with Stephen, who is definitely the odd man out in this motley crew. Stephen wants nothing more than to solve this whole fungal plague problem, and he’s pretty sure that he can do it if he can just get out there and observe the hungries up close and personal. Those thoughts lead him to sneak away from Rosie whenever he can. He has invented a special suit that keeps the hungries confused about his exact whereabouts, so he can actually move slowly into their midst and observe them for hours at a time. Then, one day a different kind of creature bursts into a room filled with Stephen and his hungries. She is obviously intelligent, but she has the speed and reflexes of the hungries. Shockingly, she speaks a guttural language, although it is unintelligible to Stephen. As Stephen investigates further, he discovers that the girl is the leader of a large group of similar children who range in age from toddlers to teens. Unfortunately, Stephen can’t tell any of his team members about his new discovery because if he does they would either kill the girl and her friends and/or lock him up inside Rosie for the rest of the trip. Stephen's decision to keep his find a secret will have major ramifications for the future of the mission.
Stephen is the titular boy on the bridge, a literal reference that is explained in the middle of Part II of the book. At that point, he is actually a boy on a real bridge, but he is also—metaphorically—the bridge between the human survivors and the new generation of hungries. Carey provides other bridge metaphors for Stephen. For example, "An eccentric genius, or just an ill-equipped explorer swaying on the rickety rope bridge between sanity and madness?" The soldiers definitely view him as a crazy boy who is a detriment to the expedition, while the scientists mostly ignore him, except for Kahn, who nurtures him like a son. Stephen, in turn, accepts Khan as his one and only friend in the world. Just as The Girl with All the Gifts is a coming-of-age story for Melanie, this novel is a coming-of-age experience for Stephen, who must deal with some harsh and heart-breaking realities before the book comes to its violent end. With his eidetic memory and his total lack of social skills, Stephen reminded me of a post-apocalyptic Sheldon Cooper.
As Carey tells his story, we get to know most of the team members fairly well. The characters who play the most important roles are Stephen, Khan, Carlisle, and McQueen, so they get more print space than the others. Each crew member is compelling, but Stephen is the heart of the story, and we root for him all the way through. As the plot advances, suspense begins to build, beginning with the announcement of Khan’s pregnancy and then the gradual revealing of various secrets about the present behavior and past events for several of the team members.
As dark intrigues play out among some of the Beacon Muster crew, Stephen and Khan take center stage in an emotional finale that will break your heart. Carey has created another powerful story set in the terrifying world that he meticulously created in The Girl with All the Gifts. If you are looking for a brand new take on zombies (although that word is never used here), you need to read both of these books. This novel is a terrifying, emotionally gripping page-turner that you won't want to miss.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Boy on the Bridge is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.