The Girl with All the Gifts: 5-stars zombies-with-a-twist

This is the story of a girl. Melanie is the strongest, fastest, and smartest 10-year-old alive, and she loves going to class. But she also spends her nights and her weekends locked away in a cell – why?

This is the story of the zombie apocalypse, and a group of survivors trying to fight it. But it’s not quite your standard narrative.

This is the story of how a mushroom takes on humanity and wins – bet you didn’t see that one coming.

This is the story of Pandora’s box and how, beneath the horror, sometimes there’s hope.

Five years late to the party, I finally discovered M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about this story, except for what the cover revealed – glowing reviews, and this tantalising paragraph: “Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.” And I almost feel like this is the best way to approach it.

On the other hand, this is an awesome book that I highly recommend reading. And it would be a shame for anyone to miss out on it just because there’s not enough information about it. So, without giving too much away, here is my best non-spoiler review.

Fiction, thriller, or drama?

The Girl with All the Gifts is not your standard take on a zombie apocalypse. First off, the book takes place some time in the future, in a post-apocalyptic world that has organised itself to deal with the facts – somehow. Second, and most importantly, the book is mostly about the people. The zombies (or “hungries”, as described in this tale) are almost secondary for big parts of the story. The main focus is on who is alive, all of which have their fair share of darkness lurking just beneath the surface.

While the cover describes the book as a thriller, I’m not sure I agree with this description. There is definitely an element of psychological and scientific puzzle as we work through the mysteries the book presents us with (who exactly is Melanie? What’s her future? Can the human race survive this apocalypse, and how?). But the setting and obvious fictional elements take it quite a bit out of that realm for me.

Takes hold of you and doesn’t let go.

John Ajvide Lindqvist

At its core, this is a gripping human drama. While it’s told mostly from the point of view of Melanie – who is a really interesting heroine – we also get fascinating glimpses into the other main characters’ heads, letting us in on their motivations and dark secrets. The book doesn’t shy away from hard questions and ethical dilemnas, but it does leave the reader to make their own opinion on who is right or wrong, evil or not.

You can almost see the story

Overall, The Girl with All the Gifts is one of those books you devour without even realising. It’s very well written, with a strong opening that grips you in the first few pages. And then the fast pacing, clever action scenes, and mysteries teased throughout the book just keep you there until you’re finished.

The writing and structure is almost graphic in its quality – you can always visualise exactly the characters and their immediate surroundings. This makes sense since M. R. Carey is the pen name of Mike Carey, regular writer for both DC and Marvel Comics (he contributed amongst others to X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR, and LUCIFER). You can really feel how the story would be structured in a visual medium, down to the exact looks of the characters – which will help anyone like me who tend to visualise their books as they read along.

Interestingly, the author simultaneously wrote the screenplay for a movie adaptation – which we haven’t seen yet but are now dying to (although it seems to have varied from the book in some instances).

Warning: minor spoilers in the trailer!

To top it all off, I’d say this is quite an easy, fast read, despite the apparent length of the book (over 450 pages). Because the style is simple and direct, told mostly through the perspective of a 10-year-old (admittedly a very clever one), and the story is so gripping, you won’t even realise as the pages fly by.

So, why should you read it?

The characters are clever, varied and nuanced

A major strength of the book is that the characters’s backstories are all explored in some depth, giving us insight into their motivations and fleshing out the cast in an unobtrusive way as the story develops. The author doesn’t create artificial shortcuts for character development – we’re given the space to understand where change comes from, and sometimes even to question its nature.

Specifically, if you’re looking for good stories with a cast of strong female protagonists, this is a great pick. The heroine and most of the main characters are female, without it feeling forced in any way. Women hold positions of knowledge and power: scientists, teachers, and “the girl with all the gifts” are often the ones who move the plot along.

Another interesting aspect of the cast is that Melanie, our main character, is extremely smart (sometimes described as genius). Which gives an additional colouring to the narrative, similar perhaps to Sherlock Holmes or Artemis Fowl. If you enjoy that, definitely give this book a go.

Credit: Tenor

It gives you space to piece the story together yourself

If you enjoy trying to figure out what’s going on before a book delivers the answer to you, or if you dislike exposition-heavy narrative, then this is a good pick. Some of the reveals will be obvious to the attentive reader long before the characters themselves make sense of them (in part helped by the multiple narrators). Some, I hope, will keep you guessing right until the end.

But in any case, The Girl with All the Gifts doesn’t hand you all the answers on a platter from the start, and that makes it a thrilling read as you try to work out exactly what will happen in the end.

It’s a morally grey narrative that avoids veering into depression

In this book nothing is simple, nothing is black or white. The world it depicts is bleak and scary (as you’d expect following a zombie apocalypse), but while our characters all try to improve this in some way, there’s no easy answer for anyone. This adds a lot of depth to the narrative, especially as the author makes no particular effort to resolve this – you’ll be left to judge the protagonists’ actions on your own.

While morally grey stories can make for depressing reading, The Girl with All the Gifts does retain a lot of human warmth and hope, balancing this out perfectly with its ethical dilemnas.

It’s a great twist on an existing trope

This is almost too obvious to state, but while the story has all these additional layers of complexity which make for a gripping reading session, on a very basic level it is also a very enjoyable post-apocalyptic fiction. It explores the main tropes of the genre in a familiar but refreshing way, and spices them up with some unexpected twists.

So surprising, so warm and yet so chilling… As fresh as it is terrifying.

Joss Whedon

For anyone who likes plotting characters’ itineraries, I’ll grant (imaginary) bonus points for any Londoners who can put all the places the main characters go through on the map without looking them up!

So there you have it, another glowing review of The Girls with All the Gifts. Hopefully I’ve convinced you this is worth a read – if so let me know your thoughts in the comments or tweet us here, we’d love to hear your take!

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