Imagine an absorbing book about the qualities that determine humanness, the desire for connection and protection, and the vivid dripping beauty of the world outside. Now imagine that book is also an easy-read, flesh-feasting zombie tale…
Welcome to The Girl with all the Gifts.
It opens with wide-eyed, big-hearted Melanie, a little girl with exceptional intellectual abilities, who lives in a secured cell, attends class every day, has an insatiable appetite for learning, and is unaware of the dystopian world outside. She dreams big, her imagination boundless, and vibrates with excitement whenever her favourite teacher, Ms Helen Justineau, leads the class.
Ms Justineau, a developmental psychologist, is growing more frustrated and protective of the kids by the day. Sergeant Parks is trying to run a tight ship and not get anyone killed, but countless ‘hungries’ roam outside the prison fences, as well as ‘junkers’: anarchist scavengers, bent on survival at all costs. Resident scientist, Dr Caldwell, is possessed with achieving post-apocalyptic glory by finding a cure for the mutated ant fungus, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which has nearly wiped out the human race. To solve its mysteries, however, she needs… braaaains.
M.R. Carey achieves what seems unachievable with four kick-arse characters, clashing agendas, a ‘Goldilocks’ level of gore—not too heavy, not too light—and a heart-beating pace. His real weapon, however, is telling much of the tale through the perspective of a child. Melanie’s point of view pumps real blood into the story, cranks up the stakes, and produces a journey that’s unmissable and a universe away from other zombie tales. In particular, Melanie’s tingling descriptions of the unfolding world are a real treat: dazzling, often dizzying, and yet they never slow the pace.
The book is not without its faults: some scenes feel like every other zombie book-movie-cum-TV-series, but you forgive those and wait in a state of mild tension for the next distinctive round of horror and heartbreak.
Read it. Even if you hate zombies. This is the story to change your mind. Or braaain.