The Girl with All the Gifts: Believable Zombie Apocalypse

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Madeleine’s Score: It was okay—wouldn’t read it again
(3/5 cool points)

“The burn patrols have to be really careful, because there are lots of hungries still out there. If they get your scent, they’ll follow you for a hundred miles, and when they catch you they’ll eat you. Melanie is glad that she lives in the block, behind that big steel door, where she’s safe.”

Or is she?

Welcome to ten-year-old Melanie’s world, a military base where she spends her days strapped to a wheelchair reciting the periodic table and listening to her favorite teacher read Winnie-the-Pooh. Zombies rule the world outside, but she’s never been out there. What she wants more than anything is to be with Miss Justineau forever.

M.R. Carey’s writing is fairly straightforward—few frills here, especially in scenes written from Melanie’s POV. However, I didn’t mind the simplicity. In fact, it worked in the book’s favor during Melanie’s POV scenes (which were by far my favorite), and sometimes, a story needs to speak for itself rather than poetry taking the wheel. Carey’s style is quite cinematic, which may have something to do with the fact that he wrote the book at the same time as its film adaptation. You can read all about that unusual process here.

There are two main things I love about this novel. First, the authenticity of the characters. It’s a character-driven novel, and I believe that the best post-apocalyptic fiction is primarily about people rather than plot. The dynamic between Melanie and her teacher/mother figure Miss Justineau is particularly moving. I truly felt Melanie’s need for Miss Justineau to hug her.

Second, the cause of the zombie outbreak is excellent. It wasn’t a virus, as most zombie stories portray; it was a fungal parasite. The infection spreads through bodily fluids as well as spores released by the fungus itself. Not only is this more realistic (and difficult to “cure”), but it also makes for some truly harrowing visuals throughout the novel and a hell of a spectacle at the end. The zombies themselves are terrifying and cool, akin to those in the classic 28 Days Later.

Despite these strengths, I do have a few gripes about this story, starting with the pacing. The first act is brilliant, and it takes a lot for a book to pull me in right away as this book did. But the middle was a bit of a slogfest, only to be followed by an ending that felt rushed. The ending is also debatably depressing, and upon my initial reading, it infuriated me. I’ll say that, after much internal wrestling, I’ve decided I like the ending, although I view it as dark (and deliciously so) rather than hopeful, as some readers do.

My other complaint is that there are LOTS of instances of characters doing stupid things. Just tons of “you should know better!” moments that seem to be thrown in for the sake of plot at the expense of characters that had, up until then, been complex and believable. Moments like…

When a trained military man who is fully aware of the dangers of the world in which he fights goes off by himself needlessly, resulting in his grisly (and idiotic) death. When a woman who has hated a man for the vast majority of the book suddenly sleeps with him, and it happens when they’re in a life-and-death situation. Finally, over and over again, characters leave the little girl alone with the woman who wants to slice her up for science.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a slight twist on the typical zombie story, and if you love this subgenre of post-apocalyptic fiction, give it a read. Feel free to check out the movie version, and if you just adore this world, there’s a prequel called The Boy on the Bridge .

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