Between The Walking Dead, World War Z, and even Zombieland, I guess you could say I’m a sucker for a good zombie story. But M.R. Carey’s novel “The Girl with All the Gifts” truly surpassed all my usual expectations for a quality zombie thriller. While most stories dealing with the undead are pretty black and white — the zombies are the enemy and we are routing for the human survivors — this book is far from that.
The grey area comes in the form of a little girl named Melanie and her classmates. They’re not quite human, and not all zombie, but something in between. Somehow to the people left in this world, the only thing more terrifying than a flesh-eating zombie is a little girl, curious about the world and filled with love, who craves flesh all the same. Melanie and her classmates, who are locked in cells and dressed in chains and muzzles, are test subjects for Dr. Caldwell, who is trying to find a cure for this world-ending epidemic. The problem is: the kids have no idea that they are zombies, or in this case, “hungries.”
After tragic circumstances force Melanie, Dr. Caldwell, Melanie’s favorite teacher Miss Justineau, and two soldiers to go on the run from the safety of the base and across England, Melanie finally gets to see the outside world that she was hidden from the first 10 years of her life. These five characters, so drastically different and brought together by terrifying circumstances, are incredibely well developed by Carey. There are characters that I went from despising to loving and others that never truly redeemed themselves. But the novel really offers so much unique insight into all of the people, something that you could never get from just watching the movie (which hit the big screen in 2017).
One of the biggest things that comes into play as we see inside each character’s mind is their differing views of morality. It’s part awe-inspiring and part chilling that the one character who is inherently not human, shows the most humanity towards others in the novel. It also dives deep into ideas about what the cost of saving the greater good is and what constitutes someone’s life not being as valuable as others.
What I love about this book is how unpredictable it was. There were so many surprising plot twists and it made the novel an absolute page-turner. Another thing that separates this book from other zombie stories is that it goes into depth about the science behind what makes the “hungries,” which at first was a little daunting but ended up adding a lot of fascinating aspects to the novel.
I did not see the ending coming at all — which to me, always makes it so much better. It’s equal parts tragic and heartwarming, but overall just really well written and worth the read!
Cover Photo: NPR