About the Book
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey is a best-selling, post-apocalyptic dystopian novel about a 10-year-old girl named Melanie searching for her place in the world — a world populated by insatiable, flesh-eating zombies and a desperate remnant of humanity who believe the key to their survival lies somewhere in Melanie’s brain. This story is gripping, fast-moving, original, and touching. The zombies are just icing on the cake.
Buy the Book
“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: We need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”
That was a quote from Philip Pullman on reading. Reading is one of the best things we can do in our day, so in each episode of the We Should All Be Bookworms Podcast, we take a quick look at a page-turning, magnetic, universally appealing book that, once you start reading, you won’t want to put down. I’m your host, Mykella, a budding novelist and a bonafide bookworm. And today, we’re discussing The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a best-selling, post-apocalyptic dystopian novel about a 10-year-old girl named Melanie searching for her place in the world — a world populated by insatiable, flesh-eating zombies and a desperate remnant of humanity who believe the key to their survival lies somewhere in Melanie’s brain. This story is gripping, fast-moving, original, and touching. The zombies are just icing on the cake.
So join me today as we preview this story. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just finished reading your 33rd book so far this year, or you can’t even remember the last time you read a book — this podcast is for you. In fact, if we can change the world one book at a time, then we should all be bookworms.
WHY THIS BOOK
I had a hard time putting this book down. I finished reading it in 2 days. In the same way you don’t want to get up and go to the bathroom at the movies because you’re afraid you’ll miss something, I didn’t want to walk away from The Girl With All the Gifts. If I put the book down, I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I could feel the book sitting in the corner of the room, waiting for me to come back to it.
Now, even with that said, you might still be skeptical of whether this book truly has universal appeal, given it’s about zombies. Doesn’t that put this book in the horror genre? Isn’t it a story designed to terrify and gross you out? Nah — that’s not my thing — you might say.
And, yes, this book is terrifying and a little gross. But the suspense is not because of the zombies. The real threats are the humans. I think the show the Walking Dead was so successful because zombies were essentially background obstacles — like the weather. They were just part of the natural world humans had to learn to conquer or evade. The real antagonists, the nightmare that kept the people in the Walking Dead up at night tossing and turning, were the other humans.
The same is true with The Girl With All the Gifts. The real story is about people, not zombies. And the author, Mike Carey, does an exceptional job drawing characters that feel like real people. The twist is that one of those people is an entirely new kind of person — something humanity has never seen before.
I would also liken The Girl With All the Gifts to an inspiring Greek tragedy — something outrageous and fantastic like all the Greek myths are — but these myths survive to modern times because they resonate — they give us a lesson about ourselves. And that timeless quality to The Girl With All the Gifts will keep this story alive. Just like I’m passing it on to you, you’ll likely pass it on to someone else.
A review in Marie Claire described this book as “tense and fast-paced with a heartwarming tenderness.” That tenderness comes from the Heroine, the little girl from whose eyes we see most of the story — and her perspective grounds the story in an innocence and hope that balances out some of the dark themes.
So whether you’re excited or skeptical about a story that includes Zombies, don’t rule this one out. If nothing else, you’ll add some fuel to your reading habit because I suspect you’ll be like me and lose track of time while you turn page after page, anxious to find out what happens next.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author of The Girl with All the Gifts is Mike Carey. He’s best known for this book and for the screenplay of the 2016 movie version, which he wrote at the same time — a remarkable feat. But he’s been writing for a long time, spending most of his career as a writer for comic books and graphic novels for both DC and Marvel Comics.
He says the idea for The Girl with all the Gifts grew out of a short story called “Iphigenia in Aulis,” the same title of a classic Greek myth. In Carey’s short story, a little girl is sitting in a classroom writing an essay about what she will be when she grows up. And the point of the story is that we, the reader, will see, as we read between the lines of her essay, that this little girl is in a situation where she’s never going to grow up at all.
The short story was well-received and nominated for various awards. But Carey thought that was the end of it. This was a one-off story. He felt that way because it was such a departure from the types of things he usually wrote, with a different style and voice. It was actually a little uncomfortable for him to write that story. But there was something about this little girl that tugged at him, and he decided to follow her and develop her story into a full-length novel.
“I set out at a random angle,” he said, “and discovered something completely unexpected.”
Now here’s a quick summary of the plot:
Twenty years ago, the world fell apart because of a plant-based fungal virus that turns people into flesh-eating zombies who spread the virus when they bite you. But not all zombies are the same, and some children seem to have all of their mental faculties intact despite having an insatiable hunger for flesh. These children are caught, caged, tamed, and taught. They’re isolated at a research base and are given lessons like regular children in school while scientists study them to see if they can find the key to a vaccine. But whether or not they’re human or even alive is debatable, with the consensus being that even though they’re different from the other monsters, they’re still monsters.
10-year-old Melanie is the smartest of the children, and she’s in love with her teacher, Miss Justineau, who is the only person on the research base who can see beyond the virus to the value of the children themselves as living beings with fears and hopes. Melanie’s journey to understanding what she is and her relationship with Miss Justineau is the core of the story. It elevates the book from being simply a zombie-feeding frenzy type thriller to a captivating exploration of what it means to be human.
When the research base is breached and falls into chaos, Melanie and Miss Justineau escape, along with the Base Commander, a newbie soldier, and a mad scientist. They are all thrust into the wild, dangerous territory of the zombies. But, slowly, Melanie starts to realize that the threat to herself and the world’s future emanates not from the zombies but from the few remaining humans around her.
FAVORITE STORY MOMENTS
In one of my favorite story moments, the special Zombie children sit in class talking about death. Imagine regular school, but instead, the students are strapped to wheelchairs with masks over their faces. Their movements are so restricted that they can’t even turn their heads to look at the person sitting next to them. They can only look forward. But this seems natural to them since it’s all they’ve ever known. They don’t remember when they were captured and brought to the base. They don’t remember any time that predates their current routine. And this prompts a question from Melanie:
“Whose children are we?” she asks. In all the stories she’s been told in class so far, the children have mothers and fathers or aunts and uncles. This question seemed big and important, and she was afraid to ask it.
But Miss Justenau calmly explains that their parents died when they were young, and the Army decided to take them in. Then she changes the subject and starts quizzing them on science.
But Melanie isn’t satisfied with that answer. Because in all the stories, children also don’t stay children forever. They grow up and move away from home. And the only place Melanie knows she can go is Beacon — the only city the zombies haven’t gobbled up yet. So she gathers up the courage to ask another question. “What will happen when we’re grown up?”
The answer she’s afraid of is that she’ll go to Beacon and leave Miss Justineau behind at the base to teach the next class. And so when she sees that Miss Justineau doesn’t answer the question but instead starts to cry, she is dismayed and promises to stay with Miss Justineau. “I wouldn’t want to be in Beacon without you there,” she says.
But we know what Miss Justineau knows, and that is that Melanie will never be allowed into Beacon and that she will be caged up forever, and that’s only if the Army allows her to stay alive at all.
Miss Justenau’s knowledge of the tragedy of Melanie’s life confronts the innocent, hopeful ignorance of Melanie and she’s convicted by the harm the research is causing. Overwhelmed by compassion, she reaches out her hand and strokes Melanie on the head.
This touch is an earth-shattering moment. Melanie describes this moment between them as something that “changes the architecture of the whole world.”
Why is it such a big deal? Because the number 1 rule on the base is don’t touch the children. The risk of infection is just too great. So none of the children have ever ever ever been touched.
This touch awakens something in Melanie, who believes it to be something “too nice to be in the world at all.” In her innocence, she vows to be a god for Miss Justineau and to save her.
This touch also awakens something in Miss Justineau. Before this moment, Miss Justineau was just a teacher doing her job, counting the days until her assignment was over and she could return home. After this moment, she became committed to their welfare, to their survival, and to doing whatever she could to ensure they had a future, regardless of what it meant for herself.
And the stakes are high because, in this post-apocalyptic world where humanity is hanging on by a thread, disobeying orders could mean more than being fired or demoted; it could mean execution. But she realizes she’s willing to take that chance because, now, it’s the only thing she CAN do. That touch fundamentally changed her.
And what can be more human than that? A woman touching a child and becoming committed to her welfare. A child hungry for love and becoming devoted to the first person who shows it. I also love the metaphor it represents. Just as a bite from a zombie is infectious and can bring the whole world down, so too can kindness be contagious and build it back up.
The Girl With all The Gifts is a zombie story with lots of action and gore and suspense typical of the genre. So whether that makes you queasy or excited, just be aware that the content of this story is intense. But this is also a zombie story with substance. It has a real, beating heart, and I highly recommend it.
The Girl With All the Gifts will take the average reader about 7.5 hours to read. That means if you read for at least 30 minutes a day, you should be able to finish this book in about 15 days, which is around 2 weeks.