The reason that I was drawn to The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey is the mystery. It has a striking cover and a blurb that gives nothing away, other than that there is a reason that people are scared of our heroine, 10-year-old Melanie:
“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 that they don’t like her. she jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.”
So if that is enough to make you read this book, please don’t read on as this review does contain spoilers… still with me? OK, let’s get into it.
Melanie is locked up in some kind of military compound. She is taken daily to a classroom with other children who are all strapped to chairs, barely able to move and muzzled. Here they learn about a world they have never seen and can never hope to see. This is post-apocalyptic Britain and the children are already dead.
The apocalypse came in the form of a blood borne virus. A new take on the zombie myth, the monsters of TGWATGs are known as ‘hungries’. They are people who have been taken over by the Ophiocordyceps fungus which turns them into brain-dead cells, waiting for human prey to pass their way so that they can transfer the fungus. This is actually not as far-fetched as it might seem. This is a real fungus that is known to infect ants and other insects and forces them to climb to a high point before exploding out of their head. Honest, I saw a David Attenborough documentary on it. Scary stuff! Knowing this lends a level of legitimacy to TGWATG that other novels from the genre just don’t have.
As you might have realised, Melanie is different. Not a hungry, but not a normal child either. She is extraordinarily intelligent and has an intrinsic feeling of what is going on in her life even though the adults have always shielded her (or themselves) from the truth. She knows that they think she is dangerous and that they do not want a relationship with her. Despite this, she slowly forms a bond with Miss Justineau, one of the teachers. A raid on the compound means that find themselves displaced and Justineau feels that she must protect Melanie from the military personnel, while it comes down to Melanie to protect them all from the hungries.
TGWATG creates a believable post-apocalyptic setting for some really fantastic characters. The five core characters (Melanie, a teacher, two army personnel and a scientist) are perhaps the standard line-up but they are all well realised and well-developed. Their motivations are clear, even if you disagree with their stance.
In short, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I really recommend it for thriller fans and zombie fans. It brings something new and fresh to the genre and introduces a remarkable new anti-heroine in the form of young Melanie.