the Little Red Reviewer

The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey

Posted on: August 11, 2014

girl with all the giftsThe Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey

published June 2014

Where I got it: rec’d ARC from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)

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There once was a little girl named Melanie. As far as she knew, she was a happy, healthy little girl. And why shouldn’t she be? She gets to see her friends at school, she adores her favorite teacher Miss Justineau, and she always tries her best to be polite to the grown ups who help her. Even when they are holding a gun to her head.

 

Author M.R. Carey builds the tension up slowly but very steadily, at first giving us a fish eye lens view into an underground bunker where under the sharp eyes of Dr. Caroline Caldwell and Sergeant Parks, a very select group of children are fed, sheltered, education, observed, and then vivisected. Caldwell’s mission is of the utmost importance. She’s looking for a cure. And besides, if Melanie and the other “children” were still human, they’d cry out in pain when the good doctor sliced their skulls open with her scalpel, right?

 

Ever heard of Cordyceps?  How about Ophiocordyceps?  It’s a fungus that really likes ants and sometimes spiders, and it especially enjoys threading it’s mycelial hairs into the nervous system of the critter.  What happens next is pretty disgusting.  As an aside, M.R. Carey wrote a great guest post over at SFSignal, about the science behind The Girl With All the Gifts, and about Cordyceps. He even links to a video about it. I got about halfway through the video before I screamed “eye bleach!”.  Even after five minutes of thinking about baby My Little Pony unicorns snuggling with fluffy kittens, I still want to bathe my eyes in Clorox and throw up a little. So, there’s that.

 

The gist of The Girl With All the Gifts is that Ophiocordyceps has evolved, it has mutated to infect people, and it has terrorized humanity.  Terrorize probably isn’t the right word here. Because Ophiocordyceps is nothing more than the little fungus that could. And what it can do will horrify you.

It’s pretty obvious at the beginning of the story how disgusted Miss Justineau is by Dr. Caldwell’s practices and experiments. To Justineau, these are children. Infected yes, but if they can speak and learn and have emotions, aren’t they deserving of our compassion? Justineau knows her job, and she knows the dangers, but if she were to help Melanie escape, the little girl wouldn’t hurt her, would she?

 

The compound is attacked by hungries, and so there is an escape, of sorts. And suddenly this page turning of a thriller turns from post apocalyptic zombie novel into intimate character study.  Dr. Caldwell, and to an extent Sergeant Parks start out as completely one dimensional characters, and I’m betting Carey did that on purpose. Melanie is simply too naive to see Parks as anything other than “the guy in charge”, and Caldwell as “the Doctor who never smiles”, and Justineau is burning with so much righteous hatred from them that she views Caldwell and Parks as “those assholes”.    At first, we’re seeing everything, and I mean everything, through a very narrow lens. The focus slowly widens and pulls back, the picture changes drastically and the question suddenly becomes “who is really the monster here?”.

 

Carey isn’t asking a new question, not by any means, but he’s asking and answering it in a way that makes for a great page turner of a novel. I don’t think readers will run into anything overly innovative in The Girl With All The Gifts, but there is plenty here to grab your attention, make you feel for the characters, and maybe gross you out a little.   What made the novel really stand out for me though, was the hopeful tone.  Humanity is in a shambles, there’s a pissed off mad scientist on the loose, and I won’t even mention what they run into when they get to the next city. Around every corner is more danger and another horrible way to die. And yet, Melanie’s optimism rubs off on everyone around her.  A zombie book whose engine runs on optimism? I’ll take it.

 

My  favorite part of The Girl With All The Gifts was watching Melanie and Dr. Caldwell, and how people react to them as the story progresses.  In many ways, Caldwell and Melanie are each other’s opposites, but in another way, they are the same. They are both monsters, they will both try to kill you if you cross their path at the wrong time. They are both trying to save humanity. is Carey just trying to get the reader to be sympathetic towards a “zombie”?  In a way, yes, even though there’s a lot more to it than that.

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I actually finished this book weeks ago, and it’s very strange to be writing the review with this much separation. I remember being very intensely and emotionally moved while I was reading the book, so it’s interesting to me how much that has faded over the weeks. Still, a damn fun read.

8 Responses to "The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey"

Like you, I found it interesting for a zombie novel to be optimistic. Well, as optimistic as one can be…..

I really like this book a lot and it’s in the running for my year-end top ten list.

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Totally in my top ten of the year so far. I was surprised how Caldwell and Parks started out as “bad guys” but really turned into something different. And thanks for the link, but I will not be going anywhere near a video that makes you scream “eye bleach!” Ha ha. Awesome review!

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I’m so glad you liked this one😀 You know how I feel about it.

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I loved this book. I’m not a fan of zombies, but I love the poignancy in this thriller/horror combo. As of this moment, it is also at the top of my list for 2014.

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This is in the running for my list of top books this year, I was amazed to be so emotionally moved by a zombie book.

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It’s a really good book – I loved the characters Melanie and Miss Justineau.
Lynn😀

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I’m looking forward to reading this one. 🙂

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Wow, very cool-sounding, and funny, because on Goodreads a friend had just marked Nick Mamatas’s Sensation as to-read, and I have the impression that that, too, is essentially transferring the wasp situation to humans.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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