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The Girl With All the Gifts

July 18, 2016

In The Girl With All the Gifts, based on a short story and soon to become a movie, M.R. Carey does everything well—character development, world-building, and invention of a scientific theory for fictional events. All this in a new-style zombie story where some of the zombies are sympathetic.

In fact, at the beginning, there’s a real Dickensian feel to the tale of the terrible orphanage where the main character, young Melanie, is imprisoned and starved. She has a crush on one of her teachers—Miss Justineau, who reads the children the story of Oliver Twist–but Miss Justineau gets in trouble when she answers some of Melanie’s questions or even touches her face, briefly. Bit by bit, the reader learns along with Melanie herself more about why she is imprisoned and who she is.

There are a lot of things I don’t want to tell you about this novel, because part of the pleasure of reading it is gradually uncovering its secrets and seeing how they come together. Melanie’s classical education, for instance, seems to be something outdated that she is clinging to, and yet in the end, her knowledge of the Pandora story is the key to the survival of life on earth.

There are two major struggles in the novel, and one is the struggle of Miss Justineau against Caroline Caldwell, the scientist. Miss Justineau says to her that her own job is to supply “psychological evaluations to supplement the raw physical data you get from your own research.” The “raw physical data” to which she refers is sliced sections of childrens’ brains. And yet Caldwell is not the Big Bad. She figures out the science of the zombie infection in the end, and explains it to an audience of one.

The Big Bad in the novel is the zombie horde, called “hungries.” Sergeant Parks, a veteran of the urban zombie wars, is initially unlikable, aligned with Caldwell and ever-vigilant against the children. As the novel progresses, however, he and Melanie form an uneasy alliance in order to survive and protect the three others in their group–a member of the military so young he doesn’t remember life before the zombie wars, Miss Justineau, and Dr. Caldwell.

At the end of their journey, Miss Justineau and Melanie are still together, able to teach and learn. As Miss Justineau sees it, Melanie now “gives her love without hesitation or limit, whether it’s earned or not—and at the same time pronounces sentence on her.” It’s a well-plotted ending.

The Girl With All the Gifts is generally well-plotted, well-paced, and exciting; a great read for a summer’s day.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2016 9:13 am

    A friend just alerted me to the fact that there’s a movie based on this book due out in the fall. Dr. Caldwell will be played by Glenn Close.

    • July 18, 2016 8:53 pm

      Ooh, Glenn Close can play an appropriately cold and evil Dr. Caldwell.

  2. July 18, 2016 9:16 am

    Oh, thanks for reviewing this! I have been debating about getting it, since zombies are not exactly my thing. But it looked well written, and now you’ve sad themagic phrase:”well-plotted”. Okay, I am in.

    • July 18, 2016 8:52 pm

      I hope you like it! As you know, zombies are not usually my thing either, although I like the atypical zombie book. I love Generation Dead and its sequels.

  3. July 18, 2016 2:05 pm

    From the title, I was hoping this would be a post about your birthday, ha ha 🙂 Sounds good, and Glenn Close playing Dr. Caldwell sounds promising.

    • July 18, 2016 8:51 pm

      I got some great books for my birthday! Also a trip to the lake with our big float, “party island,” and water cannons. It was lovely.

  4. July 18, 2016 7:51 pm

    I have been reading it but set it aside because I feared that Melanie was going to die horribly. Now I need to finish it 🙂

    • July 18, 2016 8:50 pm

      As the narrator says in The Princess Bride, “she is not eaten by the eels at this time.” Seriously, she lives and prospers!

  5. July 19, 2016 3:06 am

    Had me thinking of Northern Lights for a moment, Dr Caldwell’s work. Sounds like there’s a lot going on in the book in a very good way. Love it when short stories become novels.

    • July 19, 2016 8:30 am

      You mean Mrs. Coulter in the second Philip Pullman? That is a good comparison–evil, but cool and unrattled.

  6. July 19, 2016 2:10 pm

    A new zombie novel? My husband loves all things zombies. Will have to tell him about this one!

    • July 19, 2016 3:05 pm

      Sometimes I wait to read a book until after I’ve seen the movie. In this case, I think it would be fine to read the book first. The author has some screenwriting credits, I think, and it shows.

  7. July 22, 2016 10:25 pm

    I really liked this. I didn’t know it was going to be a movie!

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