Book Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

“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.”

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I’m not sure what it is about zombies, but they really scare the hell out of me. Maybe it’s because it could be me, someday, maybe, that eats the flesh of my loved ones. It could be me that watches the people around me turn, infected by whatever parasite that comes to pass. I might have to attempt to survive a zombie apocalypse. It doesn’t really sound like my idea of a fun day out.

And, more importantly, particular stories, such as those containing zombies, have just been done to death (pardon the pun). The Walking Dead, World War Z, 28 Days Later.. even Jane Austen isn’t safe from being zombified. But The Girl With All the Gifts is a different kind of story. A story that chilled me, terrified me, grabbed hold of me and refused to let go. It’s a story about Melanie.

Melanie is a very special kind of girl. Every morning, she’s collected from her cell, strapped into a chair, and wheeled into the classroom. She hopes that it’ll be a Miss Justineau day, so she can listen to stories about Greek mythology, and ask just some of her thousands of burning questions. Melanie is incredibly intelligent, with a soft spot for Miss Justineau, a hatred of Seargant Parks and his temper, and a healthy fear of Dr Caldwell, the resident scientist, who is bent on revealing how these children can still learn and grow, while yearning for the taste of human flesh.

When disaster hits the base, Melanie and Miss Justineau must join together with Seargant Parks, young soldier Gallagher and the hated Dr Caldwell, in order to survive the “hungries”. They make their way through parts of South East England, devestated since the Breakdown, avoiding the hungries when they can, and killing them when they can’t, in their attempt to reach London, and the presumed safety of Beacon. But, on the bright side, every day is now a Miss Justineau day.

Reading this novel was extra-special for me, because the events occur in a place I know very well. RAF Henlow, where the base is located, is just up the road from my old school. I used to live in Baldock, and so I’ve been to Baldock services more times than I can count (and yes, I agree with Seargant Parks, that it wouldn’t be any great loss if it was burnt to the ground). Stevenage is, regrettably, where you have to go if you want to get any decent shopping done. It came as no surprise to me that Stevenage was overrun by hungries – it’s practically the case already.

M.R. Carey is a British writer, who has also worked on many other projects, including the Eisner Award-nominated comic bookLucifer for DC comics, and X-Men: Legacy for Marvel. The Girl With All the Gifts apparently grew out of a short story he wrote for an anthology, which was nominated for a few awards. Carey’s ability to create a thrilling plot and believable characters has enabled him to craft such a bleak yet beautiful story.

Full of tension, horror and a surprising amount of warmth, The Girl With All the Gifts is vivid, riveting, and utterly fantastic. A quote on the front of the book declares, “if you only read one novel this year, make sure it’s this one”, and I couldn’t agree more.

The Girl With All the Gifts is available on Amazon.

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