I don’t read (or know of) a lot of zombie books, and I don’t watch many zombie movies, either. The only time I watch The Walking Dead is when I’m in the room while Dan is watching it. I’m not opposed to the zombie subgenre; it’s just not my usual topic of choice. But when I picked up Rue Morgue a few issues ago to find the cover story was a piece on a new zombie film–an adaptation of a novel–it piqued my curiosity. Maybe it was the title, The Girl with All the Gifts, or maybe it was the summary that followed, but along with that cover story, something got TGWATG stuck in my head like an inner ear itch you just can’t scratch.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I made my first trip in months to the library. I went armed with a list, and TGWATG sat at the very top.
M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts places readers twenty years into the future, where a fungal virus has spread and turned much of the earth’s population into “hungries,” seemingly mindless creatures that feed on their (uninfected) fellow humans. It’s been discovered that certain infected people–certain children–are partially immune, but the reason remains unknown. When the base at which this anomaly is being studied becomes overrun by a hoard of hungries and junkers (a feral population of humans choosing to live fully off the grid, without the aid or overview of the military), we’re left to follow five of the remaining characters on their way to the command center. Among them is the infected child, Melanie, who shows the greatest potential to save them all.
A sentient zombie in the form of an adolescent girl seemed too good to pass up, and I’m so glad I found TGWATG at the library because I didn’t much want to wait to read this.
The beginning was a bit slow, easing readers into the world of destruction, infection, and military life. I have to admit the first dozen chapters or so felt like a struggle, but a number of bookstagrammers assured me it was worth it, that the action would pick up, and they didn’t let me down.
Nothing terribly new or unexpected occurs in this novel as far as zombie stories go, aside from the explanation for the undead. The reanimated state of zombies has often been portrayed as resulting from a disease, but the disease as fungal isn’t one I remember seeing before now and not to the extent it has been in TGWATG. Carey is thorough in detailing what scientist Caroline Caldwell–a rather sterile, human evil in contrast to the hijacked hungries–knows and we, as a result, also come to learn. And while I find the fact that it’s a fungus and, by extension, how it works fascinating, the chapters from Caldwell’s perspective remained some of the least interesting throughout the book, as Caldwell’s ruminations are bogged down by science and lack of humanity that’s found in the other characters, including the hungry-hating Sergeant Parks. I wouldn’t say this makes the Caldwell chapters bad, however; in fact, their style reflects perfectly on her character.
By far my favorite chapters were from Melanie’s perspective. She has such a wonderful character whom I couldn’t help feeling affection for (though, honestly, I liked everyone but Caldwell). To see the world, even in its dystopian state, through the eyes of a young girl is actually quite sweet, given their circumstances. But Melanie’s characterization gives us so much insight into these partially immune hungries, and while I expect readers will catch onto the looming questions of “Who is human and what does that mean?” much quicker than the adults in the novel, it’s not a consideration without merit in this story.
My biggest beef with the story is actually the subplot of the junkers. They’re mentioned a handful of times, but aside from being a catalyst in the early stages of the novel, they don’t have much part to play. I don’t know if they were truly necessary to the story overall (and as it happens they’re largely absent from the film adaptation with no real loss to the story). While they present an ominous threat, it’s so abstract in comparison to the hungries that they’re forgettable.
Despite the slow start, I enjoyed this novel. It was a little predictable at times–apart from the ending, which I didn’t see coming and just adored in its darkness–but for the most part, it was a thoughtful, frustrating, and heartbreaking look at humanity and what it means to be alive.