The Girl With All the Gifts
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 Melanie’s classical education, for instance, seems to be something outdated that she is clinging to, and yet in the end, her knowledge of the Pandora story is the key to the survival of life on earth.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.