The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

girlwithallthegiftsSo, this book was totally not what I expected. Mostly because I wasn’t expecting a zombie novel. And I never would have picked it up if I’d known it was. But its, even though they don’t call the infected people “zombies.” That’s exactly what they are. Despite that, it was a great read, which proves that it’s sometimes a good idea to read outside your comfort zone.

The Girl with All the Gifts is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian Britain, in which only a few pockets of safety remain for humanity after a deadly plague has wiped out many people and left most of those who survived as mindless, cannibalistic “hungries” (so, basically zombies). Melanie, the titular girl with all the gifts, is a brilliant, curious, compassionate ten-year-old who grows up in a research facility, not fully understanding either who she is or what’s happening to the world around her.

Then all hell breaks loose, the zombies get into the research facility/military base, and a ragtag group of survivors is on the run for their lives, learning against all odds to trust each other. This sounds very cliche but the thoughtful and nuanced characterization lifts it above the cliche. This is a smart, literary novel about real people who just happen to be being pursued by zombies, and who have real and serious choices to make against this backdrop.

Due to my queasiness, I had to skim over some descriptive passages, but the novel and its characters (who alternate points of view, which helps them all become real and fleshed-out people — gee, I’m sorry I said “flesh” in my review of the only zombie novel I’ll ever read) kept my attention riveted to the end.

The end. I’ve had to think a lot about this ending. I’ve just reviewed a book (Belzhar) whose ending made me rethink everything I liked about the story. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending of The Girl with All the Gifts. It seemed satisfying at the time, in a weird and twisted way, but the more I think about it the less sure I am. I’ve decided not to spoil this one, even below the “read more” cut, but if anyone else has read this, post in the comments and I’ll post my question about the ending there, because I’d really like to discuss the ending with someone else who’s read it. This is an excellent, thought-provoking, and troubling book.

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One response to “The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

  1. [Peeks head in] Hi. I’m always nervous leaving comments on others’ blogs. In truth, my visits here are sporadic at best, but I have always appreciate blogs like yours that give popular (and young adult) books equal footing to more literary fare.

    Like you, I’m not usually one for zombie-in fact, my tolerance for scary or creepy things is, in general, very low- but I picked this up after a glowing recommendation from Wendy at themidnightgarden.net (whose reviews I highly recommend, all three reviewers on the site are good.) I was very taken with Melanie’s voice in the first third. So taken with it that the slight shift in focus to more of the soldiers’, the doctor’s, and Helen’s perspectives in the middle third dragged a little for me. But I suppose the argument could be made that Melanie’s perspective during that time would have been a bit too repetitive, what with the shock and awe of seeing the world for the first time.

    As for the ending, I remember after I read it telling Wendy on twitter that I couldn’t remember ever feeling so simultaneously pleased and unnerved by an ending. Because on one hand, Melanie’s logic makes perfect sense and aligns with her intelligent and yet still childlike demeanor. But on the other, how could anyone justify turning the ENTIRE WORLD into zombies? But for me, the conflicted nature of it is what made the book a favorite of mine. I do wish, though that we had seen more of the aftermath of Melanie’s decision: perhaps a return to her perspective weeks or months later.

    I’m not a very active reviewer. I don’t have a blog (yet… maybe someday), but I do love chatting about books. Feel free to contact me via Twitter or my Goodreads profile, which is linked on my Twitter page.

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