Book Review: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
Genre: Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombie
Publisher: Orbit (January 2014)
Author Info: www.mike-carey.co.uk
Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
“When your dream comes true, your true has moved. You’ve already stopped being the person who had the dreams so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.”
I’m not sure what I thought this book was about when I heard about it and when my friends started praising it. The blurb describes a bright young girl named Melanie who is obviously trapped in some sort of horrible prison school. For what purpose? Some sort of Orwellian education? Why is she bound? Why are the guards so afraid of her?
The books begins with her point of view as the 10 year old girl describes a day in her life. It’s fairly typical. School days. Teachers she cares for. Some she does not. Subjects she craves, others not so much. But there are all sorts of little indications that something is not right with this school. Something is in fact terribly wrong for these horrid grown ups to treat children this way.
But somewhere along the way, once Carey has firmly sucked you in and made you care for Melanie, the author reveals that it is not the school that is wrong. It’s Melanie.
Spoiler warning from here on for those who wish to keep the mystery and just read the book. Also, gross nature stuff warning.
This is, effectively, a zombie story. A thinking, not-quite-breathing zombie story, which is fairly common these days. But what makes this truly frightening is that it could well come true. Horror stories are most frightening when they are firmly grounded in reality. And here is the reality upon which this story is based: Ophiocordyceps.
There isn’t an exceptional amount of blood and gore to this story and I would hope that, should this become a movie or TV series, the showrunners would strongly consider how much more horrific the potential of this happening is, as opposed to relying on shock horror. But my imagination, knowing what Mother Nature has done already, quite happily filled in the necessary grotesqueries as I read along.
Thankfully, all of that was balanced by a powerful story of survival at the end of the world. Melanie is an amazing character. It’s not easy to tell compelling and believable story through the eyes of a child and, perhaps if the story had been told entirely through her eyes, it would have been problematic, but Carey switches back and forth between several adult characters, each with their own stake in Melanie as both a human being and a test subject. The other characters and their feelings towards Melanie begin and grow as is to be expected, but that makes the storytelling no less compelling.
If you’re not a fan of horror, this isn’t for you. Worse, if you’re not a fan of bleak endings, then this is not for you. That is my other fear for an on screen version of this book. Hollywood has a penchant for finding some sort of happy ending, but this one, bittersweet as it is, needs to be told exactly as the frightening potential reality that it is…