Over the last decade or so, zombie stories have been told and re-formed and told again in countless ways in popular culture. “Warm Bodies” gave us a great zombie love story, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” gave us a great love story in spite of the zombies, and the movie version of “World War Z” gave us Brad Pitt with a Kurt Cobain haircut (which is kind of like a love story).
Throughout all these re-imaginings of what the end-of-times might be like, I, like many others, was growing a bit weary of the whole thing. Yes, those people you are slicing were once your loved ones, and yes, they still retain their faces, blah blah blah. This subject, in my opinion, had been analyzed from every angle, and in general had been beaten to death. I was, therefore, skeptical when a colleague suggested I read “The Girl with All the Gifts,” but I decided to give it a go.
In “The Girl with All the Gifts,” the zombie apocalypse has splintered the world. Outside, the “hungries” swarm abandoned buildings, pursue and eat the remaining humans. Only a few groups of functioning humans are left. The Earth is a wasteland now, where only the strongest survive. However, Melanie doesn’t know this.
Melanie is a young girl who always does what she is told. She waits in her cell for her once-a-week bathing, for her once-a-week eating. She waits patiently as Sergeant Parks’ team straps her onto a wheelchair (cuffing her hands and neck so she is unable to move), and waits while they wheel her to class. She likes class best. She loves learning math problems and plant species, Greek mythology and poetry. She loves her kind teacher, Miss Justineau, most of all. And she doesn’t understand why, when Melanie mentions what she’ll do when she grows up, Miss Justineau looks so sad.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” was a fantastic ride, a different kind of love story from other zombie scenarios we’ve been given in the past. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say, it takes the idea of “but you’re slaughtering zombies who look like people” to a whole other level.
Most of the characters are lively and engaging, with clear motives and realistic personalities. However, where author M.R. Carey truly shines is the way Melanie interacts with her world. We are shown her world through her eyes, and it is a world full of breathtaking wonder and devastating fear. While the book circulates through multiple viewpoints, I enjoyed Melanie’s perspective best: the end of the world through the eyes of a child.
Megan Mehmert is the teen programming associate at Missouri River Regional Library.